The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson

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The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A strong and tensely plotted story of first love, parochialism and the pack instinct with some lyrical descriptions of landscape. Bookbag couldn't put it down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Definitions
ISBN: 978-0099487654

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Things aren't going so well for Glenn (two Ns - he's named after the Smiths song Death At One's Elbow) Jackson. Recently uprooted from urban Burnley to the rural Lake District, he's having trouble fitting in to his new and wildly beautiful but equally parochial surroundings. A talented artist, Glenn is perfectly at home with the wild landscape, but he and his father are not welcomed by most of the close-knit community. As if trying to fit in better weren't difficult enough, Glenn's mother has mysteriously gone walkabout. And his father's not saying where. If it weren't for the untidy but bewitching Laura and his sketching, Glenn would be in desperate straits.

And then, one day, Harlequin the boy giant appears. He lives rough in a shack up by an abandoned quarry. Clearly running from something or someone, this simple lad disguises himself with clown's make up and an old felt hat. Slowly but surely, Glenn starts to win Harlequin's trust but before he can find out what it is Harlequin is running from, events take a terrifying turn.

The Great Harlequin Grim reminded me a little bit of David Almond's books. It lacks the mystical, slightly supernatural elements of Almond's work, but like Almond, Thompson explores the inner life of an introverted and alienated central character and that character's interaction with someone very different from the norm. Also like Almond, Thompson uses the wild and beautiful Lake District landscape as a kind of pathetic fallacy, reflecting the defensive parochialism of the locals and the pack instinct to view anyone different as a threat - whether they be urbanite Glenn or simple Harlequin.

It's a gripping story with a real Hardy-esque inevitability about it. At the same time, it's also a rather touching coming of age story dealing with first love, friendship and the ability to accept others for their faults as well as their virtues. Glenn makes it through, but not without shedding some tears along the way. I shed them with him. The book is perhaps at its strongest in its descriptions of the landscape and at its moments of highest tension and Harlequin is one of those rare characters from books that find their way right under your skin, never to leave. It's pacy but never manic and there's a readily recognisable emotional landscape. All the loose ends are covered, but like life itself, nothing is too perfectly tidied away.

Confident readers of ten to middle teens will enjoy The Great Harlequin Grim - it's no niche book and there's something in it for everyone.

My thanks to the nice people at Random House for sending the book.

Margaret Mahy's The Changeover has an equally sensitive portrait of first love with a fantasy twist and David Almond's The Fire-Eaters portrays a lost and damaged soul.

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Buy The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson at


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