23 Jul 2010

Review of Kate Thompson's Creature of the Night by Karla J.M. Brading

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson. Published by Bodley Head Children's Books.

Creature of the Night is a little piece of questionable madness.
             In Ireland, a young mother attempts to dodge her debt problems by suddenly moving her family away to a quiet farming village in the hope of making a fresh start.
            The book focuses on (in first person) the life of rebellious and disobedient fourteen year old Bobby, who has convinced himself that the gang of criminals he has left back “home” in Dublin are the best and only people he wants to be around. Without them, he feels lost.
            The book is about loneliness and change, which becomes clear as Bobby reflects on the old times when he and the gang went around stealing things: “Weekends and holidays we worked the streets,” and wanting desperately to return to it, only to discover that the gang have all moved into a more relaxed and ‘legal’ lifestyle. Bobby’s mother, a single woman that Bobby appears to despise, makes an effort to converse with her neighbours just to feel as if they’re making a ‘positive’ change in the mess that has been their lives so far.
            But here’s the confusing part. Instead of keeping the book compellingly believable and gripping with the scary reality of adolescent misbehaviour, Thompson tries to introduce none-too-subtly a touch of ‘fantasy’ that leaves the reader baffled as to its relevance. 
            There are some extremely serious themes here; underage pregnancy, debt evasion, single parenthood, theft and drug addiction: “The best thing about using is that you don’t have to kill time. It just passes so quickly, like it’s killing itself,” then BAM, a fairy pops her unlikely head into the mix.
            I had to ask myself, “Did I miss something here?” I looked at the cover, with its picture of a boy wearing a hoodie and jeans, walking along a dirty street. It seemed absurd. I had just been delving into the mind of a troubled youth, following his journey as he stole a Skoda and allowed a friend to take it for a spin, almost killing them both in a car crash; a story laced with dark family disputes and running from the law. So why change the mood so drastically?
            It felt to me that Thompson had been passionately crafting a story of the bond between a mother and son, with regular inclusions of teenage angst, but panicked half way through and decided to throw in a fairy for good measure just to satisfy readers, who she assumed were all obsessed with the fantasy genre. Maybe it was because, as stated in her ‘author bio,’ living in the west coast of Ireland gives her inspiration for the (random!) magic in her novels?
            There were lengthy moments in the book where nothing happened and the material read like an uneventful, mundane teenager’s diary. You almost forget all about the unexplainable elements as you trawl through the pages, until another touch of magic sticks out like a sore thumb and that remarkably insane character, referred to occasionally as “the little woman,” disrupts what could have been a potentially soul searching piece of teenage literature.
            I really wanted to take this book seriously, and at the beginning, I did, but by the end of it I was just puzzled and frustrated. It did prove to be one thing though, and that’s unforgettable. It’s those unnatural (fairy!) moments that leave the Creature of the Night whispering into the depths of your mind, long after you’ve put it down, conjuring frightening images of a small face peering through a dog-door in the middle of the night and leaving you to wonder, “What on earth was that all about...?”

About the author
Karla J.M. Brading is the author of the Meridian Blood Trilogy - Destiny in Blood, Blood of Angels and Dark Blood Falling. She currently lives in South Wales, UK and is studying at University. Karla is also a book reviewer for Buzzmag.
You can follow her on her Twitter profile.
See all posts by Karla J. M. Brading