To begin, we’ll start with a book that I put aside all of my schoolwork for. Every year, I try to give myself a present for Halloween – a new “spooky” novel. I usually “give it” to myself before Halloween but I try not to start it more than two or three days before the big event. Anyway, context aside: this year’s annual Halloween novel (and the first of the Second Annual Cannonball Read, which I’m not an official participant in because I was too late… but I’m doing it anyway!) is John Connolly’s The Gates.
I’m unfamiliar with Connolly’s mystery/thriller books. I’ve been told I should check them out, but there are plenty of edgy detectives in my life. I’m not sure Charley Parker will ever join the ranks of Inspector Rebus, Belle Graham, and Thursday Next on my shelves… but Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things was a terrific stand alone fantasy fiction novel. Standing in the Chestnut Hill Mall Borders some weeks back while waiting for Kenard to buy the Branagh Henry V for Shakespeare class, I noticed a book with a similarly designed cover in the new books section. It didn’t matter that it was listed under the “young adult” section – it looked interesting. Having already purchased some books that day, I restrained myself… but a few days later, found it in my mailbox after an Amazon binge.
So what is it? It’s a children’s book written for adults – like one of Terry Pratchett’s children’s novels. It is funny – Connolly’s narrative voice is terrifically and very British-ly dry. The main character, Samuel Johnson, is a relatively “normal” young boy character – his father left and that bugs him, his mother doesn’t believe his flights of fancy, he’s overly inquisitive and stifled by his school. Nothing life-changing here. The same can be said for the rest of the characters – his friends, his mother, the scientists. The best and most original characters are the demons, especially the one that inhabits Mrs. Abernathy. I have a no-spoiler policy (if at all possible) and so I won’t say too much about what she really is… but she was a terrifying figure. Nurd, on the other hand, was the stock “good demon” – possibly the most disappointing character in the novel, actually.
To Sum Up: The novel did what I wanted it to do – it was a good Halloween read. It captured the spirit of the days leading up to Halloween and it was entertaining. I read it in about a day and there’s a good chance that I’ll never look to it again. Do either of those things matter? No – because it entertained me in the moment and sometimes that’s all you really want in a novel.