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Something Wicked This Way Comes: Fantasy Masterworks 49

by Ray Bradbury

(Gollancz, £6.99, 261 pages, paperback, first published 1962, this edition published 15 March 2006.)

Review by Christopher Teague

cover scanThere are many books which any fan of fantasy, in all its guises, must read as a matter of course: "YOU must read this" they say, "it's a classic novel". Something Wicked... is just one of those books, a novel that transcends genre - part sf, horror; it's even a mainstream coming-of-age tale of adolescence in Smalltown, USA.

It's the latter style that drives the narrative - two young boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Holloway, who strive to grow old, whereas Will's father, Charles, who like many of the adult occupants of the town, pine after lost youth. It's this quest that welcomes Coogar and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, and its assortment of bizarre characters.

There is much to recommend this book: the characters, all rendered in fabulous '50s style, with the two boys all wide-eyed innocence and the adults worldly wise, yet still with that "gosh, darn it" sensibility; the story, for who never wished they were older when a kid, then wished to be young again when it's too late; the writing, for each word and sentence is crafted to perfection, no syllable or simile out of place; but there is that elusive question you ask yourself with any book you've been told to read: am I enjoying it?

Sadly, no: I found myself treading through the beautiful words, the poetic prose, with my mind shouting, "come on Ray, get on with the story!" In his quest to write perfection, Bradbury for me congested a rapturous storyline with wondrous words, which is fine in a short piece, but for a novel it bogs down the narrative. This was a pity since I dearly wanted to love this book; it was dark and comic, but that damn prose!

I once read that many a classic novel, if submitted today, would have been subjected to a form rejection. This makes me wonder whether this is one such novel?

Speaking on a more personal note, I found the affectionate homage Escardy Gap by Peter Crowther and James Lovegrove a much more pleasant and enjoyable read, but then books are so subjective.

If you're keen to experience Ray Bradbury, then I'd start with The Martian Chronicles or a collection or two of his short stories: Something Wicked This Way Comes could turn you off a writer who is quite possibly the master of science fiction.

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