Simon P. Clark (Constable & Robinson) 2014, 197pp, RRP $19.99
It’s interesting that Clark’s strange, sparsely-illustrated, impressively unsettling is-it-a-children’s-book-or-not? offering comes with a promotional quote from David Almond, author of Skellig, as Eren and Skellig have much in common: both feature an unhappy child moving to a strange place against their will; both have a mysterious thing with wings (in Skellig its monstrousness is a source of mystery, while in Eren it’s never in doubt) discovered there by the young protagonist; and both have the kid and the entity establishing an uneasy relationship, as it influences the youth’s life in unhealthy ways.
Young Oli is brought by his mother to the country house of her youth that is still home to her activist, semi-hippy brother and his wife, and immediately Oli feels like he’s being watched while enduring a series of often-avian omens. Finally daring to visit the loft above his bedroom, he meets Eren, a creature that’s part-myth, part-monster, part-smoke and part-dream and, at different points, is likened to a winged bear, a monstrous vulture or a huge, toothy bat, and the thing tells Oli that it lives on stories and forces him to tell a few. He begins with The Three Little Pigs but it wants more, and he’s forced to take new friends Em and Takeru to local libraries and historical societies, as Eren seems to feed not only on his fictions but also his resentment at being lied to about where exactly his Dad is and why his Mum is so miserable.
Eerie and idiosyncratic, Clark’s début novel ambitiously combines adolescent angst, familial agonies, a little half-explained time-travel, not-quite-child-friendly horrific detail and juicy unpackings of the whole notion of storytelling. And Eren himself/itself is, at times, quite terrifying.
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