Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Thing On The Shore

I've never been one to believe hype that much, especially when it comes to publishers and what they say about their writers. After one good book too many people will jump on the bandwagon and declare a young writer the talent of his or her generation. Whilst that book may be exceptional, it is only one book and should be viewed as such, unless the writer already has a body of other work behind him. There's nothing wrong with lauding the début of a writer, but can reviewers please wait until after book two or three before declaring him as having that kind of talent?

Tom Fletcher is a writer who was described as the most promising horror writer for a generation in the wake of his début novel The Leaping, an unconventional take on the werewolf legend. In it, a group of uni friends working at a call centre in Manchester get caught up in a chain of events leading to the eponymous Leaping. It was good, but I found myself frustrated by the annoying characters, which didn't help me to feel all that invested in the story. That said, the writing was good and the horror suitably visceral.

The Thing on the Shore is a sequel of sorts, whilst also being a standalone novel. Artemis Black, manager of the call centre in The Leaping, is assigned to a call centre in Whitehaven where the other characters work. One thing I noticed from the off was that the characters were far more human in The Thing on the Shore - no longer were they weird caricatures of people. And one of Fletcher's strengths lies in his characterisation, in particular of Arthur, the protagonist, and his father, Harry. He gets into his characters heads and works them over, pushing and prodding them into real reactions. It's easy to empathise with them - or hate them, as is appropriate.

Fletcher can write. He writes in clean, mostly unfussy prose with an elegance all of its own. He even has the gift of florid, fluid descriptions without losing any of his pacing and characterisation. In some ways, it's like reading pared-down HP Lovecraft, but superior by far. His variation makes it interesting to read.

But for me there's a problem. The first 2/3 of the novel are a little aimless. Mindless drudgery with a sinister boss can be horrifying in itself, but this ground was covered in The Leaping. That we have characters in the same dead-end jobs smacks of Stephen King at his worst - rehashing the 'he's a writer' thing for his main characters. Only when we get into the final third do we start to see a real pattern emerging.

It's not to say that what went before is bad, because it isn't. Fletcher's style makes it an easy read and the characters are superbly fleshed out. The idea of the whole community being dead and strangely grotesque is in itself horrifying enough to carry the can for quite a bit of time while hints are dropped about what's really going on.

On balance, The Thing on the Shore is a good read. Unfortunately, its failings are there to be seen clearly. But it does provide a step up from The Leaping, and I'm certain Fletcher is going to have a long, productive career as one of the foremost horror writers of his age, becoming one of the wonderkid writers who actually go on to fulfil their early potential.

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