Saturday, 19 May 2007

Paul Magrs: Never the Bride (2006)

Published: Headline Review 2006

Since Bram Stoker's Dracula, Whitby has become indelibly associated with gothic horror. It is a town quite well suited to the role, with the popularity of Whitby jet for Victorian funeral and mourning jewellery, and the atmospheric ruined abbey on the cliff top which dominates the time. At the same time, Whitby is a part of the British seaside holiday tradition - which has opposing resonances of the old fashioned and safe. All this makes it an ideal setting for Magrs' debut, a comic gothic fantasy.

Brenda has recently taken over a bed and breakfast in Whitby, which seems to her to be the ideal place for her to live a quiet life. This is something that has not often been possible for her, as her lack of a surname and scarred features suggest. (Anyone who has watched any classic horror films will guess who she is long before Magrs makes it explicit.) But strange forces are at work, and soon she and her neighbour have to deal with demonic beauty treatments, fake Christmas cheer at a Whitby hotel, spiritualist TV programmes and other bizarre incidents. The general outlines of the plot are shared with many horror satires (the supernaturally unusual trying to live a normal life is, for example, the basic premise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but of course it's the inventiveness of the specific incidents that matters: and here they are very good indeed. The novel reminded me of other writers of comic fantasy who I like, notably Robert Rankin (particularly the Brentford Trilogy) and Tom Holt.

Generally, Never the Bride is very enjoyable, probably the funniest debut I have read since Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.

No comments: