Friday, 22 July 2016

Review: The Talisman, Jonathan Aycliffe

I've been on a bit of a horror bender lately. Not going to stop any time soon. So, once again, courtesy of the glorious local library we have The Talisman by Jonathan Aycliffe, a book which is in equal parts M R James, H P Lovecraft and ... the Omen.

What seems to be one of Aycliffe's quirks as a writer is to write a little note introducing his novels to long time readers. These notes are conversational, endearing and really quite bewildering to someone who has only stumbled upon his work recently. The one that prefaces The Talisman warns that his publisher suggested he try to caputre a slightly younger audience, so it might be a bit different to his other work.

Now, I admit that when this was first published, although I was indeed still in the literary equivalent of short trousers, I probably wasn't the 'younger audience' to whom he was pitching, however I have to ask: this novel is about Tom - a middle aged museum employee and academic - attempting to protect his adoptive son and disabled wife from the nefarious influence an ancient Mesopotamian artifact. The plot takes us to Iraq, the British Museum, and the hell that is organising a small child's birthday party.

What kind of younger audience was he trying to capture?

That said, I loved this book. It was a perfectly well constructed, effective horror novel. The stakes were just right, the air of foreboding impressive. It would make a fabulous television - maybe a BBC adaptation featuring one of their less-cheekboney male stars and released in time for the doldrums of the Christmas holidays.

Yes, the appearance of a token spiritual Sufi character was perhaps not as well handled as it could have been, and one must ask if the premise of 'ancient evil from dread temple in Old Babylon' is perhaps a trope that we could do without, but in terms of story - and indeed, research - Aycliffe acquits himself well. It doesn't surprise me to learn he's well qualified in Persian, Arabic and Islamic studies.

What's more, his portrayal of Nicola's blindness was quite refreshing. Aycliffe's narration deals quite pragmatically with the adjustments that need to be made to one's life to cope with long-term disability, and the frustrations often attentdent upon it, without ever undermining her intelligence and independence. Aycliffe even plays upon society's ableism in the reactions surrounding Nicola's pregnancy. Not being disabled myself, I can't comment on the precise pros and cons of the way it was handled, but it felt both realist and sympathetic, and that was a really nice touch.

That said, this isn't a world shattering novel, or even one I'll revisit very often. It was merely a well put together and very enjoyable piece of horror - and there's nothing at all wrong with that.

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