Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Thing On The Shore by Tom Fletcher

I really wanted to like The Thing On The Shore. According to his author biog, Tom Fletcher is still only in his 20s and lives locally to me; plus, I'm always looking out for new horror that's intelligent and well-written but also gripping and fun.

Unfortunately, The Thing On The Shore didn't really meet those criteria.

I did come away from the book feeling that the author showed promise. The three central characters, Arthur, Yasmin and Bony, were realistically unexceptional without ever being dull, and the setting - the bleak, blustery, unattractive stretch of the Cumbria coastline that lies in the shadow of Sellafield - is captured perfectly, with all its storms, seedy pubs and 'regenerated' sea fronts. Also brilliantly rendered is the corporate call-centre in which Arthur and Yasmin work, its employees being gradually worn down by the tedium of the daily grind and the endless soul-sapping pressures of targets and restructures. If anything, the real horror in this novel comes from the daily lives into which the characters have unwillingly settled. Because the actual horror plot, for me, simply doesn't come up to scratch.

The general idea is that there is a sinister in-between world called the Interstice, known only to a few, that can be accessed via telecommunications. Various explanations and hypotheses are bandied around, about where a phone call 'exists' when it's between receivers, but they are vague and inadequate. The Interstice itself is poorly and briefly described and its connection to the sea - which one might be forgiven for imagining to be in some way important to the story after reading endless descriptions of Arthur's mother drowning herself in it, Arthur and his friends watching the storms from the pier, Bony discovering a mysterious 'thing' on the beach and Arthur fishing for mutant crabs - is apparently arbitrary and seems to be largely forgotten by the end of the book. Artemis Black, attempting to access the Interstice on behalf of his sinister employers in between bullying his workers and date-raping 17-year-olds, is the utterly unbelievable pantomime villain who conducts a cliche-ridden ceremony towards the end to bring the inhabitants of the Interstice into the real world. A few Lovecraftian things slither around for about five minutes. Arthur's friends come to the rescue. The End.

Really, that's pretty much it plot-wise. Not much else happens, and what does happen happens mostly for very little reason. The Thing of the title is a red herring (not literally, of course) and seems to be an idea that the author had for which he couldn't think of a more interesting use; Yasmin and Bony go to bed together entirely unconvincingly. Most of the supporting characters are arbitrarily inserted, such as Arthur's manager, Bracket, and his pregnant wife, who seem to exist solely for the author to expound a half-baked theory about why people like Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS. Because apparently, Tom Fletcher likes gaming. I don't know this, of course, but if he doesn't, the lengthy descriptions of Super Mario Galaxy are a pretty odd thing with which to pepper his writing. I assume that by including them he is trying to say something about people allowing themselves, mentally, to enter 'other worlds', and there is some portentous discussion about Mario being able to jump into a pipe and emerge in another, parallel world-within-a-world which is presumably analogous to the Interstice (which apparently looks, by the way, rather like a retro video game itself). But for me, these passages just needed a damn good edit. They weren't the only thing that would have benefited from being slashed through with a red pen, either: I didn't need to read on three separate occasions, for example, that Artemis feels most at home and most powerful in the bland, soulless, corporate environments of chain hotels and generic offices.

I finished The Thing On The Shore feeling irritated. It seemed like a waste of an author's early promise, and read like a mish-mash of fuzzy-edged ideas and concepts that didn't quite gel together and didn't really have any clear resolution. The parts of the book that were done well were done very well indeed - but the rest? Sorry, but I can't say they worked for me. 


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