‘The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.’
Wham! What a way to start a novel. One line and I was hooked; desperate for more. I think it might be the finest opening line of all time. Being a sensible thrifty chap, I resisted the temptation to purchase there and then. Instead I added it to ‘the list’, promising myself I would return soon. When I arrived home, the news was just in. Ray Bradbury had died.
My mind reeled, was this just coincidence or had I inadvertently caused the death of one of science fiction’s greatest authors? OK, he was ninety-one, but did I have that sort of power? Well obviously not, but even now a small part of me wonders whether I should have checked out Jedward’s biography whilst I was there.
In honour of the great man’s passing I bought the book.
It takes as its subject that stalwart of gothic fiction, the carnival troupe. Like clowns, carnivals are something that are supposed to entertain children and adults alike, yet in reality they are macabre and scary. There is something other-worldly about them, with their freak-shows, bunko artists and silver-tongued magicians. Bradbury adds a touch of the supernatural and a pinch of wish fulfilment to produce something truly terrifying.
The prose in ‘Something Wicked…’ is stylised, and has its own mystical quality. Bradbury’s evocative description manages to be rambling, yet feels as though not a single word is redundant. Fans of modern horror may not find the style to their liking. Contemporary writers of the genre tend to use more direct, visceral prose. Description tends to be an accurate depiction of what is happening. Bradbury’s meandering descriptions are filled with metaphor and allusion. This doesn’t always make for an thrilling read, but soak yourself in his language, and the reward is entrancing.
The tale is wrought by melding time-old themes:- Coming of age, the regret of a life unfulfilled and the perils of getting what you wish for. The carnival owners are deeply sinister, and the novel’s teenaged protagonists, full of the vim and certainty that comes with being fourteen. This book is a clear influence on Stephen King, but not just his writing of horror. ‘Something Wicked…’ very much reminded King’s novella ‘Stand by Me’. Both are beautiful and accurate portrayals of boys on the cusp of adulthood.
This is an amazing book. A prose masterclass by an author at the peak of his powers. No word is unnecessary. A meditation on youth and longing, ‘Something Wicked…’ is a book with multiple textures and layers. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.