Tuesday, 26 July 2011

REVIEW: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick

"If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black [ . . . ] it is enough to prove one single crow to be white." (William James)

White Crow is a book about wanting to know what happens after death - about wanting to see real proof that something does happen, rather than taking a leap of faith. Two characters, living in the same place but centuries apart, are obsessed with this question. The real question is - how far they will go to find an answer? 

By the way, this is all wrapped up in a BLOODY CREEPY gothic thriller. I listened to the audio version, read by Teresa Gallagher, and certainly spooked myself. (WARNING: don't listen at work/school/a public place as you may realise that you've been staring straight ahead with your mouth open for longer than is normal - a bit scary for someone that doesn't know what you're doing).  

At the centre of the story is Rebecca. She's uprooted from her friends and life in London to Winterfold, a dull cliff-side village in where NOTHING happens. Of course, we know that dull villages where nothing happens usually turn out to be terrifying and evil, but Rebecca takes a while to catch on. It is her cynicism and ordinariness - she is not expecting anything weird to happen and she is reluctant to believe it when it does - that make this story believable and ensure it avoids any gothicky cliches (even when we are cavorting in graveyards).

She meets Ferelith - a sweet-voiced but definitely odd girl, who has a bit of a fascination with graves. Soon she has a bit of fascination with Rebecca as well. The girls develop an intense friendship, with Ferelith thinking up a series of dares and adventures that seem always to lead back to the graves - to the village churches that are gradually sinking into to the sea and throwing open their dead.

The story is interwoven with the 1798 diary of a Winterfold clergyman, who is becoming gradually obsessed with discovering the secret of the afterlife, and is prepared to engage in decidedly unholy practices to find out.   

Marcus Sedgwick has created a modern gothic tale that is downright creepy, with scenes that will haunt you for a long time after. The scariest part is the psychology of his characters - what being obsessed with death has done to their minds. Both Ferelith and the clergyman narrate their parts of the story and so you never quite know how much of what they tell you is true. Teresa Gallagher reads these characters brilliantly - using a sweet, little girl's voice for Ferelith and a slow, measured voice for the clergyman. The less disturbed they sound, the creepier it is to hear what they are actually saying.

Here you can see Marcus Sedgwick explaining the story much better than me, and also reading a bit of the book:

Stars: ***** Spook yourself silly

If you like this, read: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish, The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn. 

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