Another week, another title for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2012 (Hereon referred to as the WCBP2012)!
Rather fittingly, this next title, is the spooktacular and creepsome (not words my dictionary recognizes, but whatever…) Long Lankin, the debut novel for Lindsey Barraclough, and I enjoyed every single second of it… Read on to find out why.
Set in post-WWII Southern England, Long Lankin is a ghost story of the highest English tradition. It follows the story of Cora, a young girl from London, and her even younger sister Mimi, who are sent to stay with their Auntie Ida in Guerdon Hall in the tiny country village of Bryers Guerdon, to help their father cope with work, and the apparent leaving of their mother, over the long summer holidays. Auntie Ida though, is not such pleasant company for two young girls, and starts laying down ground rules from the minute they step foot in her house: No opening windows, no going into the marshes at low tides, and absolutely no going down to the abandoned All Hallow’s Church at the end of the Chase. Trouble however, seems difficult for the girls to avoid, especially after meeting local boys Roger and Peter Jotman. Before they know what’s what, the girls are exploring the forbidden graveyard of the All Hallow’s Church. But there is an evil that lurks in that church… An ancient evil, that prays on the souls of children, and young Mimi has helped it wake up, and start to hunt. Soon, Cora and Roger are trapped in a web of deception and murder spanning back hundreds of years, and deeply tangled up in this web is Cora’s mother, her family and now her. She tries to turn to her Auntie Ida for answers, but her Auntie, overwhelmed by grief and memories, shuns her, forcing her to dig deep into the town’s history to uncover the truth behind the ghostly visions and mysterious singing she hears at night in Guerdon Hall. Who is Long Lankin? What is the dark shape that scratches at the door after dark? And what is the secret so dire that many would rather perish than face the horrible truth?
Building on the fantastic ghost story traditions of Susan Hill and M.R. James, Long Lankin is a tale that really is one of the most terrifyingly chilling stories I’ve read in a such a long time. It’s sense of suspense is surpassed perhaps only by it’s intricate mystery plot and deep, rich characters. The background of the Guerdon’s and their tragedy is teased out throughout flashbacks, letters and character interaction, constantly creating a hunger to read and uncover more, that really helps us as the reader to connect with Cora and her desperate struggle, first to understand, and later to protect. The flaws in the characters, particularly Ida Eastfield, are shocking and realistic, with some of the violence she inflicts on the children quite disconcerting in itself. The mystery and horror, and the every day post-war Britain are woven seamlessly to create a painfully contrasted sense of suppressed depression under a thin, strained image of happiness, and the setting fits the story perfectly. The descriptions are spot on, really bringing the setting to life, and helping create a sense of creeping dread that chills the spine and keeps your brain turning for hours afterwards. Long Lankin itself is such a horrible idea, it put me in mind of the creations of Hayao Miyazaki in Princess Mononoke, and the descriptive passages on the way it moves and acts really filled me with a gleeful feeling of revulsion. This is just what a good ghost story should be like, a strong, curious protagonist, and hideous embodiment of evil for an antagonist, and human beings at breaking point, pushed to their worst by the inability to cope with their emotions. Long Lankin pulls human drama, supernatural ghost story and ancient mystery to form one fantastic Young Adult title, which has enough punch to really entertain the adults too, which of course, all good YA lit should.
Happy Halloween Ya’ll!