From the pen of Irish crime thriller writer John Connolly comes ‘The Gates’, a book billed as “A strange novel for strange young people” – and the subtitle tell us just why this delightful story is “strange”: ‘Of Hell Are About To Open. Mind The Gap.’
‘The Gates’ is, I understand, a slight departure from Connolly’s usual style. Not having read his work before, I can’t make comparisons to his previous books, but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining and easy-to-read novel (even though I suspect I’m a little older than the target audience. As for ‘strange’, well, I live by the dictum that ‘normal is what you know’…).
Set in a small English town, ‘The Gates’ introduces us to Mrs and Mr Abernathy, a dreadful couple who are messing around with dreadful things. We meet also their not-quite-as-dreadful-but-still-none-too-pleasant friends, the Renfields. And pulled into their dreadful schemes are eleven year-old Samuel Johnson and his brave daschund, Boswell.
Samuel’s father has left home for Another Woman, leaving behind his beloved Aston Martin, Mrs Johnson and Samuel (yes, in that order, would you believe it?). This alone should be more than enough for an eleven year-old to deal with, but things get much worse for Samuel… While trick-or-treating three days before Hallowe’en (he was showing initiative by getting a head start), Samuel witnesses the Abernathys, together with those horrid friends of theirs, dressed in black robes and performing a strange ceremony which will open up the gates of Hell.
The big problem for Samuel, other than the possibility of the Great Malevolence entering our world and destroying it, is that no one (not even the local vicar) believes him. And so the fate of the Earth depends upon a small boy, his smaller dog, and a pathetically unlucky demon named Nurd. And as Hallowe’en draws closer, the portal increases in size, the gates open wider… However, things don’t run as smoothly as the Great Malevolence would like them to: Demons discover the joys of motoring (think Toad from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ – glorious poop poop!) and the effects of alcohol…
Connolly has very cleverly brought CERN and the Large Hadron Collider, Einstein, St Thomas Aquinas (together with his dancing angels), and the ubiquitous Cup of Tea into the story – tricky subjects, but he has done so in a most accessible way. I never thought that “a strange novel for strange young people” would teach me so much about what those scientists in Switzerland are trying to do with that big, fancy machine of theirs, but there you go.
While planning this review, I was very aware that demons are touchy subject matter at best. I can assure you that this book is not some satanic horror that will give you nightmares for weeks on end or make your head spin around on your shoulders. This is a story that will make you smile, chuckle, and laugh out loud. You will also want to Turn Those Pages, as the pace certainly picks up momentum as the plot progresses (a bit like the particles in the Large Hadron Collider, I suspect). At least, that was my experience reading ‘The Gates’. It was as though John Connolly took Monty Python, Spike Milligan, Terry Pratchett and HP Lovecraft, put them into a cauldron, and let them simmer until done.
I found ‘The Gates’ to be a hell of a lot of fun. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon read, and a wonderful excuse to suspend belief for a few hours. If you’d like a second opinion, I can tell you that Eoin Colfer (who has made more money by writing than I have) described this great little book as “Delightfully horrific and hilarious.” Do give it a try.