Half-Sick Of Shadows
Doubleday hardcover £14.99
review by David Hebblethwaite
Half-Sick Of Shadows is one of the joint winners (along with Michael Logan's Apocalypse Cow) of the inaugural Terry Pratchett first
novel award, an accolade for unpublished debuts set 'anywhere but here, any-when but now', with publication offered as part of the prize. David
Logan's winning novel is a curious piece which contains the core of a fine realist novel - but, as a work of the fantastic, it's less successful.
In rural Ireland - towards the end of the last century, but geographically remote enough to be effectively timeless - five-year-old Edward Pike lives
in an old house called 'the Manse' with his twin sister Sophia, their two brothers, their parents, and Granny Hazel. One morning, a strange man appears
in what he claims is a time machine; asks Edward to be his friend and promises that, should the boy ever need help, he need only ask; and promptly
disappears again. This is soon forgotten, however, when Granny Hazel dies later that day.
After this, the paths of the twins - who have previously been so very close - begin to diverge. Their father makes Sophia promise never to leave
the Manse, to always be there to help her mother - and she keeps her promise to the letter. Edward, meanwhile, heads off to boarding school and looks
set for a successful academic career as the years go by. Whilst at school, Edward meets and sort-of befriends Alf Lord, a strange boy who will turn
out to be even more extraordinary than he seems.
Life at the Manse is harsh and oppressive, with a sternly religious father, cold climate, and lack of modern technology. Logan has a great eye for
detail in showing this:
Sometimes the water froze overnight and first to the pail had to crack ice with the jug. Sometimes it froze outside, in the well, and Mother had
to break it by dropping the bucket hard, or with a pole. One year she broke the bucket. The next year she broke the pole.
As Edward grows, the ups and downs of his life at boarding school are depicted just as vividly; so are the slow changes to life at the Manse as the
modern world encroaches inexorably upon it. For pretty much its first two thirds, Half-Sick Of Shadows is a steady-paced - yet thoroughly
absorbing - study of character and place.
But there's something else going on in Logan's novel. From the title onwards, references to 'The Lady of Shalott' abound; they combine with time
travel and murder to form the book's dénouement. There are a couple of issues with the way this plays out. First, it brings in a radically
different change of pace and tone, which sits awkwardly with has gone before and works to dissipate the atmosphere which has built up. Second, the
central idea driving the plot in its final stages doesn't really have enough time to establish itself, and so does not feel to carry all the significance
in context that it might.
David Logan is certainly a new voice to be welcomed - at its best, Half-Sick Of Shadows is well worth reading - but the book as a whole doesn't
quite come together.