Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Half Sick of Shadows

I'd never thought of what sort I liked; stories were stories, like cows were cows. But there were different sorts of cows: fat ones, skinny ones, standing-up cows, lying down cows, black and white cows, and brown cows.

Edward lives in the Manse with his twin sister, Sophia, his two older brothers, his mother and father and Granny Hazel. With the exception of the odd visit from Farmer Barry in his lorry, this is Edward's world. They have a cemetery for a garden and an outside toilet. When Edward is five, a stranger arrives in a time machine with the words Morris Minor on the front but quickly departs. Whilst young Sophie is made to promise her father that she will never leave the Manse, Edward is sent off to boarding school. Distraught at leaving his other half behind, he buries himself in books and befriends the eccentric Alf, who no one else ever seems to have heard of.

My new room gave me a phobia I had no name for. Perhaps there's no better name for it than small-person-in-big-brothers'-former-bedroom phobia. Which isn't as bad as big-brothers'-in-dead-granny's-bedroom phobia.

Edward starts out as a rather literal young child, as they so often are, and his observations are full of humour. Growing up in the isolation and deprivation of the remote Manse, he and Sophia entertain themselves with reading the dictionary and the encyclopedia. Edward's mother calls him precocious. As the story progresses, Edward's voice subtly changes, something I didn't come to realise until the end when he sounds like an adult.

Yet even at a young age, there are hints that there is something not right in their word. The story turns darker with each page turned. Their father is a zealous in his religious beliefs. The Manse appears to exist in a time long gone, yet technology manages to creep in, inch by inch. Sophia's promise to never leave is ominous and Edward's education is full of sorrow. Yet David Logan, never gives you enough time to get depressed, there will be something witty to break the atmosphere on the very next line.

Indeed, he stopped being The Old Bore and became The Dirty Old Sod. I knew dirty old sods; Father put them on top of Granny Hazel after he buried her.

Out of the two offerings from the Terry Pratchett prize, Half Sick of Shadows is the more literary choice. This isn't going to appeal to everyone. The blurb makes out that the story is about time travel. Whilst it may very well be about time, don't expect lots of time travelling escapades. The pace is rather slow, especially during Edward's school years, yet each page is a joy to read and contains something quotable. The humour is very different to Apocalypse Cow, perhaps a bit cleverer but certainly more charming.

“In an infinite number of multiverses.”
“Plus one.”
Sophie screamed and ran out of the room, waving her arms in the air and shouting, “My head's exploding.”

I know, Sophia, quantum physics does that to a lot of people.

After a slow build, the pace quickens towards the end, yet it has a feeling of ending a bit too quickly after all the legwork. It would be a great book group choice as it's an ending I want to discuss with people and work out if I like it or not. I feel I didn't know enough about Alf even though he was a really interesting character. If I knew there was going to be a sequel, I would be more satisfied by the end... Yes, I want a sequel!

Half Sick of Shadows is published by Doubleday and will be available in hardback and ebook formats on 10th May. Thanks go to Transworld for providing me with a copy for review. You can follow @davidclogan (no relation to Michael) on Twitter.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

5 comments:

  1. Great review. Sounds like a good read. Will keep my eye out for it.

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  2. Sounds interesting. You have me wondering what happens. Great review.

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  3. This sounds amazing. Dark, literary and sci-fi? That's all my boxes ticked!

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  4. I just finished reading this. Wow, amazing book! Dark and beautifully written, and not something you can easily categorise. I agreed with you about the rushed ending - I thought there was too much going on at once. That aside, it will probably be one of the top 10 books I've read this year.

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    1. I had a Twitter DM conversation with David about the end but I didn't save the messages. He did have to rush the end because of the Terry Pratchett Prize so he's not entirely happy with it either.

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