The perils of reading

I've had an enjoyable couple of days reading Paul Magrs' comic-horror 666 Charing Cross Road. It's an enchanting, sometimes ghoulish, and hugely entertaining read. When a New York witch starts writing to an arcana specialist in Charing Cross Road she gets rather more than she'd bargained for. A book of spells will turn her niece's boyfriend into a vampire, cause chaos across New York, and bring to life a museum exhibit. With New York about to be turned rather more literally than it would like into the city that never sleeps, it's time to return to the Olde Worlde and lay the spell book to rest.

I loved everything about this book. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but Magrs can lay on the horror when he wants to, there are a few spine-tingling, and the occasional jump off the sofa moment. It's got a wonderful blackly comic vein of humour, and some great characters. Characters that you can really believe in and want to cheer on throughout the novel - hugely important when the plot is fantastical. For such a plot to work and be convincing there's got to be some level of plausibility.

There are also lots of little nods to literature and film. 666 Charing Cross Road owes a lot to Dracula, Frankenstein and its Hollywood descendents; but there's also George A. Romero, a pinch of Robert Burns, the letters between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel - 84 Charing Cross Road, and a salute to the doyenne of British horror writing, Mary Danby (now sadly largely forgotten). There's also the classic idea of an evil Brit let loose in America.

Although the novel is set firmly in the twenty-first century, it could have worked just as well set in an earlier time. And thinking about this it struck me that perhaps this is why vampire stories continue to do well. They are as popular now, perhaps even more so, than they were in Victorian times; there is something about this kind of tale that continues to resonate.

More than anything though, this novel is about the power of the written word. A power that can be for good or evil, but that can completely change the world. It can be a power for good - it's notable that most of the characters are prolific readers, and love books; but also for evil - through the power of the spell-book vampires will be made, and the dead, quite literally, brought back to life. One of my very favourite quotes in the book comes from near the end, as the undead cut a brutal track through the unfortunate bookshop, lead vampire, Daniel, the fallen British angel, is no longer able to empathise with humans but has time to reflect on the demise of the bookshop wondering what zombies have against literature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was a rollicking good read, laugh-out-loud funny, toe-curlingly horrible, and just about all you could wish from a book that takes you completely outside yourself. Brilliant.


Clare Chase said…
Sounds brilliant, Margaret, and it's not the kind of thing I normally try; it's really good to be alerted to it by your review.
Margaret Jones said…
Not my usual kind of read either, Clare, but definitely worth a go. It was great fun.

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