The Nursery by Warren Hargodd

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The Nursery by Warren Hargodd

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A strange secret in a strange land is the worst thing some tourists wish to encounter, but in this dense and overlong novel they do. The fine features we would like to recommend are almost swamped by the depth of detail and scuppered by the jumps in style.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Unknown
ISBN: 978-1847997098

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A man in a strange city picks a suspiciously single girl up in a bar, but back at her place finds her jabbing him with a needle and her flatmate laying out protective floor covering. What ensues after a mysterious gap is him thinking he can fly around the high towered building he wakes up in.

Another traveller arrives in the same strange country – a very isolated island country on Earth, where the language is as impenetrable as the drinks the locals imbibe, everyone is born with twelve fingers, and every town has the same kind of high-towered building, photos of which are banned, and whose purpose is never admitted to any visitor.

A worker in one of those buildings has a file from a mysterious police investigation in front of him, and a great back-story involving the country's religious and cultural past behind him. Add more travellers, arriving with a meeting with the first man in mind (at least at first), and a Cockney character underused in the first two hundred pages, and you get a mix of narratives, narrators and styles. Linking them all is the oddness of the country, and some mysterious life forms – some small chunks of tentacled flesh, either resting in specimen jars or floating through dreams (or pasta!), and others even more bizarre.

And, of course, those buildings.

The book that results is heavy on detail, and very good with the suggestive way it leaves the reader to piece everything together – often imagining the worst given what little clues he finds. However the revelation of all those details, clues and mysteries are quite hampered by the way the weft of stories has been created.

The attempted bluntness of the medical revelation that ends the first man's first chapter is just unsatisfactory, but apart from that the writing is substantial enough. The problem lies more with the jumps in style that the changes in character results in – from, say, a nicely written Cockney vocalised first person to the less successfully engaging third person. And while chapter six has some great fantasy elements in its back-story, and comes at the right time to compel the reader to stick with this substantial read, the fact it is given in the second person is really not necessary. I am sure one could follow all the strands throughout even if all were third person. (This all also means that were I to mention characters by name in this review, I would be forced to wade through reams to find them – 'you' don't get told what you're called for ages. Hence my lack.)

Some chapters show through some very poor proof-reading that an earlier draft seems to have been in the present tense, but have half been rewritten to the past. A lucky decision to not go further over the top on differentiating the plots.

Still, there is fun to be had in the spread of approaches, and also in trying to guess whose will come next – but there is also a feeling of a lack of more relevant fun. With the good, dense premise of who will be left alive to work out what, there remains a book too long stuck on the fence. If anything is billed as 'part mystery, part sci-fi, part horror and a lot more besides' there is always the risk it will just end up not mysterious, sci-fi, or horrific enough for anyone.

I was at first quite critical of the author pitching this book onto a completely fantastic country on Earth, but while this if anything makes the thriller element a bit too familiar, it goes very well with the fantasy side – it's not every day one has such a subterranean mystery with Communist-era architecture perched on top. The police actions that create the problems for some characters are very recognisable, and do create a good merging with the more arcane elements of the story – the desert-based revelations of wonders are a fine contrast with the drab procedural of citizen round-ups.

However the book takes too long to spark between genres. The medical horror disappears after the initial foretaste; the sci-fi I would prefer to dress as fantasy (and that I will admit is quite strong). People might consider the late introduction of suspiciously perfect puppets a gothic element too far, or just the fillip to allow for more bizarre elements to be introduced.

The level of detail and sheer length of the story is also a negative factor – while it reads a lot quicker than a first flick-through would appear to suggest, there is too much depth to the story. While it only shows a strong imagination at work, there is a sense of time passing too slowly, and while we get a firm sense of what has been going on yet no clear picture, we could lose patience with the author as he skirts around his final revelations.

I don't want it to appear the book is too woolly, far too long or just totally unsatisfactory, especially as from page 300 on it really kicks into life, with all the pieces of narrative gelling most intriguingly, and with high drama too. Yet for me it was a good example of the first-time published author trying too hard to include as much as he could. Which is a pity – character, dialogue, plot and description are all fine, yet Warren Hargodd should have held back and allowed him an easier ride with a second novel.

And with the more successful elements of the book on offer here – the whole ethos of the Mittel-European tourists meet techno-Lovecraftian holocaust, and the better evidences of authorial talent – the easy way he finds for the locals to speak English with a heavy accent, there is still a sense that that second novel could be well worth looking out for. This first one missed the lesson beginning 'less is more' and has to struggle too hard – and leaves too much that feels like a struggle for us – as a result.

Our thanks to the author for sending us a copy of his book. The above might not sound like the world's strongest recommendation, but The Nursery remains well worth investigating – there's actually a four and a half star rated read struggling to get out.

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