This comes as a recommendation to me by Lory from The Emerald City Book Review – it was a group read suggested for Witch Week but unfortunately life got in the way for me, as it so often has done lately, and so it took me until mid-October to finally get round to reading it and then another few weeks to actually get the review done. Still, I always like getting recommendations and this was a particular treat – the huge success of The Night Circus a few years ago launched a fleet of imitators of varying degrees of quality but from the second one begins Something Wicked, you realise that this is the original – a true classic and something very special. Managing to be beautiful and to inspire fear simultaneously, while reading this book, I felt I could almost hear the eerie music of the carousel in the background. Perfect reading for a cold autumn night.
Clearly taking its title from the witches’ monologue from The Scottish Play, the novel itself has a particularly lovely opening line, ‘First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.’ The central characters are indeed two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, lifelong friends and neighbours, both nudging towards turning fourteen. We meet them through the eyes of a lightning-rod salesman, passing by the two as they lounge around on Jim’s lawn. Will is fair and friendly to all, Jim is dark and keeps his own counsel. Jim’s father is long dead, Will’s is the lovely Charles Halloway – not ‘grandfather, not far-wandering ancient uncle’, but slightly late in life parent. Themes of youth are prevalent throughout the novel, with Charles feeling embarrassed by his own age and almost envious of Will and Jim, while Jim in particular longs to grow up.
It is something of a mystery when the hand-bills begin to appear for an upcoming carnival so late in the year, but the boys are curious despite Charles Halloway’s misgivings. Will and Jim visit the carnival in the evening but what they witness is no light-hearted assortment of amusements but rather something deeply sinister. Something wicked. The carousel is not just an innocent merrygoround, the ‘freaks’ are something far more unearthly. And the two owners of the carnival, Mr Cooger and Mr Dark, are a great deal older than they appear, so that when their eye falls upon young Jim and Will, a real feeling of fear is unleashed.
Almost every line feels quotable, elegantly crafted while still managing to appear effortless. Bradbury is a true poet of a writer. The passages where the boys cower as the Dust Witch passes above their homes, searching for them with sightless eyes, struck terror into my bones. The struggle between the light and the dark, the good and evil, is played out here with great originality and imagination. Yet still, the over–arching theme is of youth – Jim longs to grow up, Charles Halloway laments his ageing, and then the deadly carousel appears to have the power to turn back or fast-forward the clock, with various characters under-going its affects. A little girl with an old lady’s soul is found sobbing inside the foreground, while Mr Dark appears to ride the carousel too far for comfort. Charles Halloway warns the boys that there is no good longing to be older or younger, since there is no way of undoing or gaining experience, but this longing for a change is the temptation through which the characters teeter towards their doom.
Despite being an ideal autumnal read, as well as a stunning piece of literature, I found it hard to sum up my feelings on Something Wicked. It intrigued, it beguiled, but it is one of those books where the physical process of reading it is more powerful than the plot, meaning that I find it hard to describe to another person. I shuddered as the boys cowered in the library and Charles Halloway tried to lie to Mr Cooger to keep them safe, my scalp shrank as the boys recognised the Dwarf for who he had once been – but yet the resolution felt less important than the beautifully put-together prose. It is no slight to say that this is a novel of description rather than true action. Something Wicked is a book to read on a cold evening – for me it was particularly exciting to discover Ray Bradbury for the first time, having never read anything by him before. I may be hesitating before I set foot in a carnival any time soon however.
Affiliate LinksBuy on Amazon.co.uk
Buy on Amazon.com
Buy on BookDepository.com
Buy from Foyles Books (UK)
Buy from Waterstones
Published by Hachette UK on August 29th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, General
This post contains affiliate links which you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.