Sunday, 20 March 2011

Whispers in the Graveyard (Theresa Breslin)

--The blurb--
"Solomon is full of anger - with the teachers and his father, who mother who has left him and with himself. He cannot bear to be at home or at school. His refuge is one corner of the kirkyard, where nothing lives but a rowan tree. When workmen cut this tree down, a terrible force comes to life."

--The review--
Upon reading through Theresa Breslin's impressive Carnegie Medal-winning bibliography, I wonder to myself if I have in fact been living under a literary rock since the dawn of my life, for here is a woman who has been active in children's fiction since I was barely out of nappies and who has continued to be amazingly prolific since, putting out a book every two years as an absolute minimum and even in some cases putting out more than one book per year. And yet in spite of this track record, and despite teaching in a school that caters for children aged 2 to 18, I had not even heard of her before 2011. While remaining dumbfounded as to how this could be, I simultaneously had an excellent introduction to her work in the form of Whispers In The Graveyard.

I was the sort of child who was a fan of the Goosebumps and Point Horror series of books and made a habit of watching Strange But True Encounters on the television, so this would have been then, and still is, right up my alley. With a surly young child narrator, Roald Dahl's old tactic of setting the adults against the child so that as the reader you want the child to win out, and a creepy graveyard as the setting, Breslin has plenty of strong ingredients for a good story, which serve as a hook to draw the reader in right from the start. Solomon's miserable home life leads naturally into the kindness and support that he receives from the at times unorthodox Ms Talmur, and Breslin also helps to build up the background of the story and Solomon's personality by directing him there whenever times get tough. Various desolate and creepy descriptions are used to make the graveyard scary (but not too scary) and fascinating in equal measure, and not too much is given away about where the story will go; you could even argue that by the end of it we still aren't 100% aware of what has gone on, which is perhaps taking things to new heights for the book's target audience (the protagonist, after all, is only ten or eleven years old, and we can more or less assume that the average reader of this book will not be much older).

Perhaps the only weakness in the book is of the five-year-old character, Amy Miller. She seems to be used by the author merely as a catalyst for the rest of the storyline, with little thought to characterisation: she is an insipid character whose level of dialogue is inappropriate for a five-year-old child, and while this may have been done in keeping with the adult and sinister nature of the rest of the book (in addition to the spookiness of the story, we have the subplot of Solomon's father's alcoholism, and the fact that even Ms Talmur can sometimes seem a little sinister), the fact that this character is unrealistic and jars with the rest of the book still remains.

Whispers In The Graveyard is still nevertheless hugely readable and delivers a satisfying and inspiring conclusion without us feeling that all of the horrifying buildup has gone to waste. An excellent introduction to Breslin's work that should leave readers - whether adult or child - wanting more of the same.

Other works by Theresa Breslin
Simon's Challenge (1988)
Different Directions (1989)
Time to Reap (1991)
Bullies At School (1993)
Kezzie (1993)
A Homecoming for Kezzie (1995)
Alien Force (1995) 
Missing (1995)
Death or Glory Boys (1996)
Across The Roman Wall (1997) 
Blair, The Winner! (1997) 
Name Games (1997)
Bodyparts (1998)
Blair Makes A Splash (1999)
Starship Rescue (1999)
The Dream Master (series: 1999-2004)
Duncan of Carrick (2000) 
New School Blues (2002)
Remembrance (2002)
Saskia's Journey (2004)
Prisoner in Alcatraz (2004)
Divided City (2005)
The Medici Seal (2006)
The Nostradamus Prophecy (2008)
Prisoner of Inquisition (2010)

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