Sunday 12 June 2011

Review: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss . . .

When Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome, and are desperate to go back to London. But Auntie Ida's life was devastated the last time two young girls were at Guerdon Hall, and now her nieces' arrival has reawoken an evil that has lain waiting for years.

A haunting voice in an empty room ... A strange, scarred man lurking in the graveyard ... A mysterious warning, scrawled on the walls of the abandoned church . . . Along with Roger and Peter, two young village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries - before it is too late for Mimi

I read a lot of horror books written for children and Young Adults. Many of them do not hit me on a psychological level, instead they hold my interested with their lashings of blood and gore; they are the written equivalent of the slasher movies that I love so much. Are these really horror stories or should they be re-genred as shockers? I have found myself wondering where the truly terrifying books were, the modern equivalent of the M.R James ghost stories or Shirley Jackson's brilliant The Haunting of Hill House. Perhaps, I mused, stories like this are just too much for young people, and authors and publishers too concerned about causing nightmares amongst there readers. Well if ever that was the case it certainly is no loner - over the past twelve months a number of books have been published that have affected me on that deep psychological level to the point where they have entered my dreams and caused me to wake up in the middle from a terrifying nightmare. And I love it!

One such book is Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough, published back in April by Bodley Head. The story's inspiration is a centuries old ballad that tells of a grisly murder carried out by the titular bogeyman Long Lankin, and from this inspiration the author has created an original story that is disturbing, terrifying, spooky, atmospheric...... I could go on and on here until I ran out of suitable adjectives. Maybe all I need to say is that if you read this at night you may struggle to get to sleep, and when (if) you do finally manage to drop off your dreams will not be particularly warm and cuddly. However, if you decide to err on the side of caution and start reading this in daylight then you had better be a quick reader, as it will draw you in completely and you really will not want to put it down, and before you know if night has fallen, and just what was that noise upstairs?????

Cora and her younger sister Mimi are sent to the countryside to live with their Great Aunt Ida Eastfield, a lady who some of the local children are convinced is a witch. On their arrival at Ida's creepy run-down house on the fringe of the village of Bryers Guerdon the girls are made to feel far from welcome but as the friend of their father who drove them out of London has already departed it would seem that the old lady has no option but to take them in. Aunt Ida also very quickly makes it clear to the girls that she will not tolerate any deviation from a long set of rules that she dictates to them, although as with most children they simply make Cora more curious about her new surroundings, and as events unfold all the more determined to break the rules.

The first person narration of the book is largely shared between Cora and Roger, a boy she meets as she first arrives in Bryers Guerdon. Roger's background is very different from Cora's - he is a country boy who is the eldest of five children, with a pair of loving and caring parents. The way he narrates his part of the story contrasts brilliantly with Cora's narration: Cora is bitter about the way she has been shipped off to an old lady who obviously has no lover for her as this is reflected in the way she tells the story, whereas Roger brings a welcome element of humour to the story that helps relieve some of the tension created by the horror that is Long Lankin. The two children share their narration with Ida Eastfield who is used to add some of the historical background to the area and its terrifying legend.

I have read/watched a number of otherwise great horror books/films that have been ruined at the moment that the 'monster' is revealed to us, and I guess it is something that authors and directors work very hard at, and possibly get quite nervous about. Jaws is such a great film because Spielberg couldn't use his animatronic shark in the open sea and therefore had to rewrite the script and make it more character based and by the time we do finally see the slightly unrealistic looking shark our terror levels are so high that we don't care about total realism. Similarly with Ridley Scott's Alien, with the eponymous monster remaining in the shadows for much of the film. Like Spielberg and Scott, Lindsey Barraclough does not suffer the fate that has befallen many who have come before her - when we do finally get to 'see' Long Lankin there is no disappointment, or lessening in the terror factor - in fact, if anything, it is increased even further. This is one monster that you really do not want in your dreams!

Long Lankin is set in the 1950s, and this has allowed Ms Barraclough to really let rip with her atmospheric descriptions of the buildings and landscape around Bryers Guerdon. There are very few cars and more importantly no mobile phones or internet that Cora and Roger can use to research the history of the legend of Long Lankin. Instead they have to piece together information from some of the eccentric local inhabitants of the area, and other tidbits they glean as Cora snoops around Ida's house, despite the rules that forbid her from doing so. The author's talent for descriptive writing and attention to detail in the creation of her 1950s world really brings the story alive, adding to the horror that is lurking in the background.

I loved this book so much that I went out and bought a copy once it was published, and then bought a copy for a friend's birthday as well. However, my thanks must go to the people at Random House who gave me an early proof of the book when I attended their Bloggers' Brunch at the beginning of the year. This book is the perfect stepping stone between children's and adult fiction, and I would imagine that many YA readers who read and love this book will progress on to the likes of Stephen King in the future.

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