June 21, 2006

Dark and Dickensonian

First published in 1974 (then made into an horrific movie in 1977), this oldie by the prolific Joan Aiken is back in print. Its evocative title and weird cover art caught my eye immediately, and the first few sentences wouldn't let me go. Midnight is a Place indeed -- and an awful one!

Lucas Bell is stuck, stuck, stuck. Exiled from warm India by the death of his father, he has been brought to the hulking gothic ruins of the house in Midnight Court, where he feels like he'll be molding away forever. Nothing has happened for the year he's been stuck in freezing, wet, foggy old England, trying to survive on nasty food tossed in front of him by angry servants, and avoiding his tutor, Mr. Oakapple, and worst of all, his guardian, the choleric and irascible Sir Randolph. Lucas cringes away from all that is real, and instead invests himself in an imaginary friend, to whom he writes epic volumes of letters that are colorful and vibrant. It's all that keeps him going. But things change from bad to worse, as one rainy cold day, someone else gets dropped into that house of ill humors, and then everything falls apart. Before it's all over, there's a monstrous fire, man-eating hogs, at least three murder attempts, a suicide, and scraping poverty. But endurance, imagination and strength of character will see Lucas through, and readers will feel satisfied with the non-sugary ending of the story.

Aiken has written a spine-shiveringly dark book, which is deliciously awful, and not easy to put down. Readers will want to track down all her morbidly imaginative works.


a. fortis said...

Now, she wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, right? I used to LOVE that book. I'll have to check this one out.

tanita s. davis said...

I haven't read that one, but I've heard rave reviews! I guess the title made me think it was about wolves... so I never picked it up. Silly me.