The Devouring by Simon Holt
|The Devouring by Simon Holt|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A boy possessed by a creature of fear leads his older sister to face their combined worst nightmares in a horror for teens that swings from subtly developed to out-and-out Grand Guignol strength.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: October 2008|
Meet Reggie, a fifteen year old girl who cannot quite come to terms with her younger brother Henry's behaviour. Is it down to her awakening at last to boys and driving lessons? Is it that, due to an easily diverted father and a mother who left the household months ago, she is fed up with being a free babysitter? Or is the real reason more akin to what is in a scratchy journal she finds due to her working in an occult bookshop? Is Henry in fact only going to dark and disagreeable places and moods due to possession by a Vour, a devilish entity that thrives on developing then dining on fear?
I'll give nothing away by saying that the title of this book is then a rather broad play on words. And while we're on broad, initial signs of what this book is about, let's consider the cover. It takes me back twenty five years or so to when a teenaged me was collecting contemporary horror, and already fed up of skeletal heads that set a mood but didn't illustrate any scene from the actual book. It's a grisly example here, and alongside such unsubtle elements of the story (say, the anecdote of Henry's hamster eating Reggie's tampons) bludgeons me into admitting this book is very much a parent-free zone.
In contrast to that the actual writing has a lot that is immensely subtle. The characterisation is very nicely built up, from the everyday to the initial terrors where Reggie and her best, equally macabre, friend test each other with their own phobias. I thought this was very well written, with a great balance of threat and reality. Unfortunately, I took a breather for coffee halfway through, and came back to a book that lurched into the gore, the Grand Guignol and really quite certificate 15 territory.
If you don't make the mistake of pausing – and this doesn't invite you to ever stop turning the pages, in truth – you will find a book that consistently gives us strong energy levels, yet has a nice balance of pace throughout its drama.
I'm not sure about another form of balance in the novel, however – and I have to go back to the switch from the slow-burning nature of the first half where Reggie is not quite sure what she's up against, to the second half where she's thrust into a real nightmarescape of viscera, babies, hypothermia, spiders and so much more.
Of course the opening will ground the horror to come in the audience's mind, but I'm not convinced the target reader will fully appreciate the way the book slows its ascent to terror with such nuanced psychological approaches. It's a fine effort, and reads brilliantly, but I'm not sure Simon Holt didn't waste some of that energy.
What he has crafted is a book for the 12+ audience that I am sure will give them a very nice sense of the willies. I read it a sunny September morning, but I am sure that coming out as it does just before when it itself is set – Christmas – it will be more than effective enough. There's a remarkable amount of the book that is internal, from character's thoughts, to fears and more, and it's all incredibly visual. I saw a perfectly vivid and well-made film of it all on my mind's screen while reading, and the target audience will get a lot of special effects of their own from these pages.
Before any real film comes along, should Holt be that lucky, I am sure the sequel will build on the grander story suggested by bits of this book. It'll be a sequel avidly watched for by fans of teen horror, for whom this book is definitely recommended by the Bookbag. Rating as an adult I did find the push to the swing into horror too much, but I hope four stars is still another unsubtle, introductory sign for you to consider.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Devouring by Simon Holt at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Devouring by Simon Holt at Amazon.com.
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