Shadow Bringer by David Calcutt

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Shadow Bringer by David Calcutt

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A lovely piece of magic realism in which the supernatural element is a metaphor for coming to terms with loss, family crisis and growing up. It's beautifully written and will appeal particularly to fans of David Almond.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2009
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 0192728806

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Nathan's not having a very good time. He doesn't want to be staying with his aunt and uncle. He doesn't like his loathsome cousin Kevin. He doesn't see why his mother needs a holiday away from him and he misses her. He also misses his father, whose absence, it seems, is likely to be permanent. And to make matters worse, Nathan can't shake the awful feeling that he's being watched. Something is out there; at the bottom of the pool in the lime pits and up in the attic at his aunt's house. It's dark, it's menacing, and terrifyingly, it seems to be growing in power, taking almost any form; smoke in the sky, a rat in the woods, a beloved pet, even, horror of horrors, a family member.

And the worst thing of all? Nathan knows he was the one to call it.

I love a bit of magic realism, and I think it's particularly apropos for children. Perhaps that's why I like David Almond so much. As they grow and mature, children are constantly outwith their experience, aren't they? And the various rites of passage - baby to child, child to adolescent, adolescent to adult - are imbued with great emotional meaning and tension. These things create a fertile ground for supernatural and spiritual elements in otherwise realistic fiction written for them.

Here, the bogeyman, the monster, is real to Nathan. It's a face that he knows, even before he sees it. And the reader can accept this, or see it as a metaphor for his coming of age and for his emotional reconciliation with the painful fact that his father has left home. His blackouts might be otherworldly, but they could also simply be a meaning he's attached to an epilepsy he doesn't want to accept. Both could be both. Either could be neither. Children feeling their way though life can identify perfectly with Nathan - and this style of writing generally. Their emotional landscape is heightened, and it wasn't so very long ago they were believing in the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas.

It's to Calcutt's credit that he wraps up the main narrative on a positive note - in fact, it's positively uplifting - but doesn't see the need to tie up every tiny loose end. Readers can take what they want from it, what they need, even. And life is never tidy. He has a great ear for dialogue, too. His characters say more in shade than in word, and there's a wealth of recognisable and tremendously comforting familiarity in his throwaway phrases.

Shadow Bringer is a lovely, lovely book. Part psychological thriller, part supernatural dream, part coming-of-age story, I'd recommend it to any thoughtful reader of books aged about ten to fourteen or so. Their parents will love it too.

My thanks to the nice people at OUP for sending the book. We also have a review of The Map of Marvels by David Calcutt.

The obvious further reading is Skellig by David Almond for the ultimate in magic realism, but they might also The Wind Tamer by P R Morrison or Cold Tom by Sally Prue, both of which have supernatural elements. You might appreciate What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire - if they're not too old for the tooth fairy!

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Lynn Huggins-Cooper said:

I’d agree – this is an excellent book. May I also recommend Crowboy, by the same author? David Calcutt is a great writer- and playwright. He has transferred his skill with writing and adapting plays with spare but lyrical language to his novels. I’d recommend his work wholeheartedly.

Sue replied:

We liked it too, Lynn.