Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

I don't read a lot of young adult literature. In fact the only ones I tend to read are the odd one that Dylan brings home that look interesting. In fact, I read this one because he had a very strong reaction to it, and he kept badgering me to read it. I did ask him to write this review like he did for The Graveyard Book, but he didn't want to. He did however say that I should say that it was a disturbing book but that he really enjoyed it. In fact, in slightly different words that was what he said when he finished the book.

"That was creepy, can you get me the next one?"

So if you're eleven, it's disturbing. And I can see why. Edgar is a quiet child who visits his uncle Montague in his big, scary house because he enjoys the stories that his uncle tells him. Edgar only sees one room in this house (apart from the toilet), and this room is full of artifacts that all seem to have a story attached to them. They are all typical , ominous short stories with a surprising twist at the end. The stories themselves are all about children, and they never end well for the protagonist. We have children trapped in dolls houses, killed by a Jinn in Turkey, possessed by a murderous demon, granted three wishes by a picture, and chased off a cliff by a demonic version of himself.

Scary enough stuff in itself, but the collection is framed by the larger story of uncle Montague himself and how he came by these artifacts, and who is making the noises in the house when he is so adamant he lives alone. Edgar assumes these are all just stories and is disturbed by the fact that his uncle seems to believe they are real.

"But I did wonder if he had spent too many hours in his own company. His curious insistence that he was not the author of these tales struck me as most peculiar. It was obvious to one even as young as I was then that-as I had begun to explain to my uncle-in most cases the principal characters in the story were dead by the end, or in such a tormented state that it would be hard to imagine how they would have the wit or the inclination to write or even dictate their tale."

I think this is a very clever book, creepy on a number levels. The stories themselves are strange, the thread that runs through that perhaps these are not stories after all is ominous, and the final story, that ties it all together, although in parts predictable, is just as creepy as the stories themselves. But I think the aspect that gave it the chill factor for me was Edgar's descriptions of how he felt in his uncle's house. Edgar's fear of his surroundings, and his belief that this is irrational comes across perfectly.

"Of course, in no time at all, I managed to pull back the creaking gate and squeeze through, and each time would urn with relief to see the wood unchanged beyond the small stone wall I had just passed through. Even so, in my childish way, I would turn again as I set out across the paddock, hoping(or rather perhaps dreading) to catch sight of someone or something."

"The enormous shadow I seemed to cast seemed to be racing me, trying to overtake me as I sped along, and a scuttling sound-which may have been Franz although I never did look round to see-echoed around the corridor, as if something were running up and down the walls. I burst rather dramatically back in to my uncle's study, panting with relief."

For me at least, this is so frightening because I can remember feeling it. I can distinctly remember not liking being upstairs at my grandparents house and rushing to be back where everybody else was. So yes, disturbing for me too. But the sense of atmosphere was probably heightened y the fact that I read this between 2am and 4am this morning when I couldn't sleep! Everywhere was dark, and there were slight noises from outside. I think it probably was a good time to read it though! Definitely a book for the dark!


Dot said...

This sounds really good, thanks for the review!

farmlanebooks said...

"Definitely a book for the dark!"

Are you sure? It sounds like the sort of thing I'd only read in the middle of the day!

I don't read many YA books either, but I love the few I've read, so it is a genre I should perhaps read more of.

Anonymous said...

If i didn't have this one out of the library all ready I'd be looking for a copy on the strength of your words. It was my grandmother's Russian dolls that worried me as a child!