Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hook, The Greens (2016)

Andrew Hook, The Greens. Snowbooks Horror Novellas, 2016. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-91139-019-0. £4.99.

Reviewed by Nick Jackson

Reading Andrew Hook’s many faceted fantasy novella is a bit like trying to see into the centre of a cut gemstone. One can never be quite sure of what one is looking at. Each facet or viewpoint refracts reality differently until you are unsure of the veracity of any. The overall effect is one of a rather disturbing conundrum.

It begins with a superbly-evoked sequence involving two green-tinted children who turn up in late 1500s England. The narrative then switches to present-day Southwold and the life of a middle-class family, seen through the eyes of Julia and Richard. Julia, it gradually emerges, is an obsessive compulsive who dotes on her two children and semi-consciously weaves a web of protective rituals to protect them. Her husband, a rather dopy antiques dealer with a penchant for family history, begins to unearth details of his wife’s ancestral line and begins to piece together mysterious links involving other members of Julia’s clan who all, it seems, share similar obsessive compulsive rituals and a connection with the green children.

The plot becomes increasingly fast-paced as it follows Richard’s research and links to a hollow-earth theorist, Wilhelm, a multi-millionaire who has been preparing for an expedition in search of an entrance to the hollow earth he believes exists at the North Pole.

When the couple’s eldest daughter is kidnapped a rather curious gender divide occurs whereby the men set off in manly pursuit with Wilhelm, leaving their women-folk to weave spells and somehow maintain a supernatural status quo. I wondered quite a bit about the reason for this divide. Interestingly, in the end the men are literally trapped by their own cliché of manliness.

The narrative is split between constantly changing viewpoints: the green children, Richard, Julia, Wilhelm, and back to the children. This structure was, for me, problematic in that it made the narrative rather choppy. The abrupt changes of scene and the author’s decision to flesh out his characters’ lives made for some awkward episodes in a Southwold antiques shop. Sometimes, too, the dialogue fails to match the characters’ expected emotional states which is a shame since Hook is very good at evoking the physical minutiae of their lives. At one point, in the aftermath of their daughter’s kidnapping, Richard’s tone in addressing his wife seems inappropriately peppy: “Come on, chin up. We’re going to beat this.”

But Hook has the experience to keep the action moving. His characters engage with some zeitgeisty philosophical questions: what is reality and do crackpot ideas and conspiracy theories have any basis in truth? What might seem like fantasy comes increasingly to resemble our own world in which truth and lies are manipulated by unseen forces. I began to wonder whether these forces, hinted at rather than overtly described, were a metaphor for the political suppression of environmentalism? Or is that just my own paranoia operating? The interesting thing about Hook’s writing is that it encourages this kind of speculation.

In the book’s concluding scenes, Hook brings his characters to a point of semi-understanding—a place of mystified horror and paralysed detachment. I was left with a sense of incompleteness. But perhaps the ambiguity of the ending is preferable to a neat and comfortable conclusion.

The Greens touches on some very real political and social issues and the author creates a set of convincing characters whose lives have substance and interest. The way Hook manipulates these characters and brings their disparate lives together makes for a very readable narrative with some with some entertaining vignettes. Above all, it is a novella that challenges and engages the reader. The conclusion allows a sense of irresolution to persist—a space for speculation to bloom. Like every real ending, like death itself, it is anything but tidy and complete, throwing up more issues than it resolves.

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