Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Quickening by Julie Myerson Review

Rachel gets knocked up by Dan who then proposes, they get married, and fly off to Antigua for their honeymoon. But a malevolent ghost from Dan’s past threatens their wedded bliss – it’s The Woman in Black: Haunted Holiday Edition!

It’s easy to see why, in a talk about the book, Julie Myerson mentioned her influences are Henry James and MR James because The Quickening is coma fuel. It’s not quite as bad as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, a story that haunts me to this day for its pure tedium, but it does have a lot in common with MR James’ upper-middle-class Edwardian nonsense. Well-off Brits enjoy a holiday and are bothered by spooky things seen out the corner of the eye – that’s basically the premise of a lot of MR James’ sleepy stories.

The Quickening is boring and filled with ghost story clichés. Rachel and Dan are one-dimensional dummies that aren’t even worthy of contempt for being so flat and uninteresting (Rachel is whiny, Dan is indifferent, you are counting the pages until the end). They meet other dreary holidaymakers, drink drinks, sit in chairs, swim in the ocean, sleep in a bed. Ok – so just like every other tourist who goes to Antigua. And that’s also most of the novel!

The clichés appear here and there to break up their uneventful schedule. Did that glass move? No, Rach, you’re imagining it. Ok, Dan – wait, did those curtains rustle? Etc. Scared yet? Dan suddenly turns into a scary husband for no reason, Rachel turns into the jumpy wife; who’s paranoid and who’s not, one character goes slowly crazy – it’s all stuff that’s been done a hundred times before without any original reimagining. The pregnancy angle reeks of Rosemary’s Baby too.

Without getting into spoilers, once you get to the end, none of those cheap ghostly goings-on marry up with the story Myerson’s clumsily constructed. They were very obviously there to remind you that you were reading a (pitiful) ghost story instead of some dull holiday romance book for bored housewives, not because they made sense in the plot. If you read this, ask yourself how any of the things leading up to it fit in with regards the big “reveal”, and then ask yourself “why now – why did gsdjiojdsg choose this moment in time to do all of this?”. The twist ending, far from being shocking, comes off as a desperate and amateurish move to startle readers from the comfortable doze they’ve been in up to that point.

The story is a snoozefest but the writing is competent and, like a lot of modern novels, eschews quotation marks for dialogue. That might put some readers off but I liked the way thoughts, speech and narration all blended together naturally. It’s also relatively short (a “quickening” read, ho ho!) so it’s mercifully over quite soon. Those are the only real positives I can glean from this!

Julie Myerson’s The Quickening joins the other recent Hammer Horror books – Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat, Lynne Truss’ Cat Out of Hell – that have turned out to be incredibly poor horror offerings. Maybe if you’re a MR James/Henry James fan you’ll find something to enjoy in this book (though you’ll probably be tut-tutting that things aren’t going slow enough); otherwise, I’d skip this and try Shirley Jackson instead for quality, genuinely creepy horror storytelling.

The Quickening

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