(Puffin, £5.99, 234 pages, paperback, published 5 January 2005.)
Nick Gifford's fourth novel we meet Liam, a young man coming home from
boarding school on an ordinary Friday evening. Liam walks into his home
to find it done over, apparently by burglars. He rings his sister on
his mobile phone, and then the police arrive... and it is at this point
that the strange things begin to happen.
Nick Gifford excels at making ordinary family life strange and weird.
His previous three novels have been original and readable: Piggies,
a horrifying novel of factory farming, blood and vampires: Flesh
And Blood, a wonderfully skewed evocation of homestead claustrophobia:
and Incubus, a cautionary tale with a wicked sense of humour.
In this fourth novel Nick Gifford tries something a little different.
Erased is a novel of paranoia, authority, and the shifting perceptions
of young people struggling with their entrance into the adult world.
After the 'burglary' Liam slowly finds his life being erased. The normality
he was so comfortable with is changed or removed bit by bit. Are the
police on his side, or do they serve a more sinister function? (Two
of them, after all, are called Mr Smith and Mr Smith.) Why do the other
normal police not believe his story? Why has his neighbour of many years
apparently forgotten who he is? Through asking questions like these,
and following a parallel investigation at his school -- NATS, which
is a special school -- Liam finds out that his former life is gone forever.
Slowly, he realises that something strange and irreversible is happening
in his life. To reveal what this is would be to spoil the ending, but
it is pretty strange and it is irreversible...
As Nick Gifford proved in Flesh And Blood, making ordinary day-to-day
events seem creepy is quite an art. You have to have an ear for dialogue
and a sense of how life can sometimes hang on the narrowest of threads.
The use of a mobile phone in Erased is a particularly clever
facet of the writing, as mobiles are commonplace for teenagers. In this
novel, however, an element of paranoia not seen before is added, making
Liam's story -- in fact, his family and his entire school -- seem sinister.
This atmosphere is also conveyed via the relationship between Liam and
his sister Kath, a relationship which breaks down in an unexpected yet
convincing way. It is the heart of the tale, though the reader perhaps
does not realise that until after the book is finished.
This is another quality read by an author marking out interesting territory.
Readable and enjoyable, as ever.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: