Now. I know a lot of people like depictions of the darker side of life in their cultural consumption. There’s an awful lot of murder, abuse, genocide in films, books, television. This is fine, each to his own and all that, but if you’re all have a pint of very dark bitter tasting ale, I’ll have a Malibu and pineapple with a paper umbrella in it, thanks. I mean, sometimes I’ll have a nice glass of Burgundy, but probably with a handful of Mini Eggs, just to sweeten things up.
It’s not that I don’t like books that are a little dark. My favourite book as a late teen was Wuthering Heights, which is not exactly the epitome of all things cheery. But, here’s the thing. Wuthering Heights was exceptionally good. Interesting plot, complex characters – a masterpiece. It had something new to say about the world, and didn’t leave you feel as deflated as a balloon that a toddler has loved.
Marcus Sedgwick is a good writer, I don’t doubt that. C absolutely loves his Raven mysteries, A adored She is Not Invisible, I liked Midwinterblood a lot. This book is a little like the latter, in that it’s four interlinked stories. Well, three stories, one poem. Unfortunately, unlike Midwinterblood, it’s not very good.
So we’ve got four tales, and the topics we cover are genocide, executing innocent young girls, abuse and suicide of mentally ill people, and mass murder. Linking these four stories is the symbol of the spiral, which, Sedgwick seems to say, will result in the same people killing and obliterating each other, ad infinitum.
This book made me too unsettled to sleep, and depressed at the state of the world, with no redemption whatsoever, and it’s not even very clever. The “link” between the four stories is a clumsily added motif.
I really hope this doesn’t win the Carnegie, as it’s the only one on the shortlist this year, that, to my mind, does not really merit its place.
Its themes mean that I wouldn’t recommend it to under 13s. I have already suggested to A that she leave it till last, in the hope that she’ll never actually get to it.