Well that was a whirlwind of a page turner! I have to say that it blew me away. Perhaps I wasn’t as excited as I should have been, with it’s enticing premise, due to my prior excitement being dashed on reading ‘The Ghost Hunters’ (whose premise ticked every box on paper, but just didn’t work for me). But what a read! From reading the first chapter, I could not put it down. I devoured it in under 24 hours, which is testament to its narrative power. Neil Spring is clearly one to watch, and reminds me that it always pays to give writers you think you should like another shot (David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ to ‘The Bone Clocks’ being a case in point- couldn’t get into ‘Cloud Atlas’ but ‘The Bone Clocks’ is up there with the greats).
I have to say that the thought of reading a spooky story about Aliens/Ufos really isn’t my bag. However, the enticing cover, with its monochrome lighthouse drew me in (proving that covers can help you judge a book). On realising that the novel drew on the very sightings in 70s Wales that had terrified me, as an impressionable infant, sneaking reads of my Gramphs’ Unexplained magazines, I was sold. Alongside the Enfield poltergeist and Gef the talking mongoose (fertile subject matter Neil could ably explore) events in the Havens totally shit me up, sleeping with the covers pulled over my eyes style. These days I am able to style my fear out much better, most likely due to desensitising myself to all things supernaturally scary by reading/watching/exploring anything with a spooky theme! Rarely do things scare me. While Neil succeeded with giving me chills, perhaps this novel worked so well because it didn’t attempt to neatly define itself as one genre. The suspense that pulsed through it carried the story, and while lingering on some of the alien interplay would have suited my own tastes, not focusing deeply on them did not detract from the story in any way.
That said, the menace of Stack Rocks really seeped through, as did Taid Llewelyn’s Religious fervour and the hostility of a remote and insular community. You could really feel the wind chimes rattling, warning of an unknown threat descending. Despite some outlandish concepts, such as animal mutilation and secret societies deep in Whitehall your belief is totally suspended and they are woven together so effortlessly that you don’t question the explanation offered by way of the developing plot. Roberts own doubts and psychological clouding, due to blocked childhood trauma, are a great device for delivering the story. His confusion and probing mirrors ours as the audience and allows us to assess the evidence as it is revealed in increments, allowing us to remain vested in a plot that could seem ridiculous if delivered in a more straightforward manner. This to me, highlights the crux of how Spring has developed as a writer- showing confidence and mastery when he delivers his story and delivering more than a great premise. While ‘The Ghost Hunters’ will clearly make great TV, this has the potential to be even better! I can’t wait to see what Mr Spring will deliver next…..