Thursday, May 01, 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Why do I like this novel? Not for the plot, which is a sketchy thing, in which evil is eventually overcome by laughter, like a cheesy Star Trek episode. It’s not especially about the characters either. The two boys are Huck Finn-ish, which is nice, but the dad is a bit cliched, wise and weary, and the women are awful. Two mums, who appear only briefly to worry about their sons and tell them off, plus a fifty year old teacher who aches to be young again, and a witch. It’s of its time of course, and there’s no rule that says women have to have decent roles in a book, but it’s disappointing, and for me distracting, when they don’t.

So why is this novel impressive? The language. It sparkles like broken glass, it’s constantly reaching to describe the dark things in Ray Bradbury’s head. You get a sense of a man twisting and stretching words to try to describe a dream. This is a man who loves words, who never uses only one when he can use ten, who stokes his paragraphs with metaphor and simile, and who adores a hyphen because it means he can yoke two words together in his striving to say something new. He has an overpowering urge to evoke and make real the fantastic. It’s a unique style, occasionally a bit awkward, a bit purple, a bit overwrought, but it’s always grasping for the best possible effects, and for truth.

Interesting comparison with Neil Gaiman. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is clever and unsettling and well-shaped, like most of his shorter books. It’s a very good read, but his evil is less evil than Bradbury’s, less cloying and claustrophobic, his world is a less scary place, and I think that's down to that passionate, surprising, yearning language.