Thursday 22 October 2015

Lost Girl

Lost Girl is the new novel from Adam Nevill and is published by Pan Macmillan. Since his debut novel, Banquet for the Damned, published in 2008 Adam has steadily built up a reputation as a writer of some of the most terrifying stories ever committed to paper. The imagery he creates on the pages of his books is as affecting as anything seen in a horror film but he manages to create the effect without the benefit of cinematic techniques, crashing chords and jump cuts – rather painting those images in the reader’s mind with elegant prose, planting them in the subconscious, conjuring up scenes that will haunt for years to come. There’s a scene in Adam’s Last Days that still genuinely creeps me out three years after reading it for the first time.

It takes real skill as a writer to properly scare a reader but Adam has it in abundance, no one is better at conjuring up the shadowy entities that scuttle in the darkness, that are barely glimpsed from the corner of an eye. Having recovered from last year’s tour de force of terror which was No One Gets Out Alive, it was with much anticipation that I awaited the publication of Adam’s next book, curious as to what horrors he would be inflicting on us this time around.

So here it is, Lost Girl, a novel which, it has to be said, marks somewhat of a change in direction for the author. The novel displays a shift from the overt horror of Adam’s previous novel towards more of a thriller – albeit one with a Sci-Fi vibe to it, set as it is in the future, a time when the impact of Global Warming is manifesting itself in the form of massive environmental breakdown with attendant mass migrations as people flee those countries where temperatures are too high to sustain life. Throw in an outbreak of a deadly virus and what you have is a truly apocalyptic vision – one which is perfectly, and plausibly, realised.

A disappointment then? No dark terrors to haunt the psyche?

Absolutely not. This is an outstanding novel and one which confirms Adam Nevill as a great writer, not “just” a great writer of horror fiction. It’s been his writing style, as much as the horrors on display that have made his books such a joy to read. There’s a slight change noticeable in Lost Girl though, perhaps a more “literary” feel to the writing. It’s distinctive prose, evocative and poetic, take for example these descriptions:

Robert rose up from white bed sheets: a scrawny upper body in the bundling of pyjamas, the turkey neck thrusting, salt-whiskered chin jutting, his eyes slit mean.

And later:

… had been born partially stricken by so many solvents of the heart, which would readily burst into flame and char the imagined future times when all could be normal, or manageable.

There’s beauty in the words and their phrasing. Not so much in what they describe however…

The plot revolves around the abduction of a child and the father’s attempts to track down and rescue her – describing the lengths he goes to in order to achieve those aims, charting the breakdown of his character, mirroring as it does the breakdown of society all around him. Some very dark things happen in this book – and most of them are done by the father, the “hero” of the story. He is never named, is referred to throughout simply as “the father”. Whereas at first this may seem a distancing technique it actually works extremely well. By not giving his name, the character is defined by what he is rather than who and by dint the whole notion of what it means to be a father is put under the microscope. How far would a father go to save his child is the question posed here and it’s a though-provoking but at the same time disturbing  read that results – the reader wants the father to succeed but at the same time will be horrified by what he does to achieve that success.

The societal breakdown in which he finds himself means that there is little or no support from the police and so it’s under his own steam that the father journeys through the dark underbelly of human existence to find his daughter (albeit with some help from anonymous contacts who provide some guidance via telephone).

The horror element in Lost Girl is far less overt than in Adam’s previous novels but it is there in the shape of King Death, a gang with connections to The Church of Last Days, introduced slowly and subtly with graffitied images and paintings in cellars but growing to full fruition in a marvellous chapter describing the father’s journey through a chapel and in which an important character is introduced. It's a wonderful piece of writing, terrifying in its imagery and the narrative twists it provides.

Lost Girl is an outstanding novel, a gripping, terrifying read from an author who never fails to deliver. It’s a book that ably demonstrates that the horrors that arise from human nature itself are just as terrifying as those of a supernatural nature. It’s a novel I highly recommend.

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