Tuesday 10 July 2012

Review: GRYMM by Keith Austin

The small mining town of Grymm perched on the very edge of the Great Desert is the kind of town you leave - but when Dad gets a three-month contract in the mine there, Mina and Jacob, unwilling stepbrother and sister, are reluctantly arriving.

From a grotesque letting agent who seems to want to eat their baby brother, a cafe owner whose milkshakes contain actual maggots and the horribly creepy butcher, baker and candlestick-maker, Mina and Jacob soon realize that nothing in Grymm is what is appears to be.

And then things get seriously weird when their baby brother disappears - and no one seems to even notice! In Grymm, your worst nightmares really do come true . . .

I first heard about GRYMM by Keith Austin back in January at the Random House Bloggers' Brunch. At that event it was described as being a little like TV's The League of Gentlemen, and as this is one of my all time favourite TV comedy series how could I be anything by excited about reading this book? Fast forward to a few weeks ago when a copy of GRYMM came through my letterbox and I dropped everything to read it. Unfortunately reviewing it is a completely different matter as I think it is unlike pretty much any other book I have read and I'm really not sure how to describe it.

I guess I will start off my saying that I absolutely loved it but I have a feeling that this could become the Marmite of YA books, as there will probably be more than a few people who will hate it. And I'm not sure there is any room for sitting on the fence with this one. However, if you like your stories to be darker than a city banker's soul then GRYMM is for you.

Step-siblings Jacob and Mina hate each other with a passion, but unfortunately for them their respective parents are now married, and together have added a third child to the family. Baby Bryan is the only thing about which the pair agree - they both think he is the most disgustingly smelly creature ever to have been born (and I think that Keith Austin's descriptions of this child will have most readers agreeing with them). The threesome have been relocated with their parents to the middle of nowhere for the school holidays, as Mina's geologist father has been contracted to carry out some studies Grymm's local mine. As soon as they arrive in the town they realise that it is probably going to be very different from your average town, and they are certainly not wrong.

The first resident of Grymm that they meet is the sinister Thespa Grymm, who can only be described as witch-like in her appearance. Both Jacob and Mina are pretty creeped out by Thespa, and the conversation that ensues does little to change their first impressions of this strange woman. However, the pair soon discover that she is only one of a host of truly weird and potentially dangerous people in the town. Thespa Grymm warns the family that "nothing is quite what it seems in Grymm", and never has a truer word been said. 

Shortly after the family's arrival in Grymm the step-siblings awake one morning to an unusual silence. They soon discover that Bryan has gone missing, and worse still neither of their parents have any memory of him ever having existed. So begins a dark adventure that sees the pair fleeing for their lives on more than a handful of occasions as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery that is the town of Grymm and its mine.

Like the TV comedy show GRYMM was semi-likened to, it is full of grotesque and deeply-disturbing characters, and the town of Grymm is like an out-back version of Royston Vasey, situated on the edge of a desert rather than the rural north of England. Other inhabitants of the town include Maggot, owner of Maggot's Milk Bar (you really do not want to drink one of Maggot's shakes; Cleaver Flay the butcher, a man who has OCD as far as cleanliness is concerned, but the meat in his shop may come from rather questionable sources; Malahide Fleur, the baker, whose wares are the most tempting pastries known to man, but don't hang around for too long or....... I could list a host of other characters, but I won't as every one of them is a macabre treat just waiting to be discovered by the reader.

This book is one of those that really does need to be read to be believed, and I only wish I could come up with a more coherent way of describing it. Dark, macabre, bizarre, hilarious, chilling - none of those words are really enough, although together they may give you something of an idea what to expect when you open this book and venture into the town where nothing is quite what it seems.

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