This is a debut novel from the author and I have seen so many people talking about it and seen it mentioned for lots of awards. I’ve been eyeing it up for months and finally gave in to the itch. I purchased the hard back edition.
What’s the blurb … “None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body.”
How I saw it... The book opens with the discovery of a body and then within the first few pages we have the structure of the book revealed in that there are chapters about the central characters as they are in 2016 and then, going back in time, in 1986 which is when everything happens that is central to the story.
The protagonist is Eddie (1986) or Ed (2016). He lives in a small town with his parents in a run down house in 1986 and is still in the house in 2016 though his father has died and his mother is in a new relationship. Eddie has a friendship group, all of whom have nicknames, Eddie himself is Eddie Munster, the kind of leader of the group is called Fat Gav and then there are two other boys and a girl. And they hang out around the area, riding their bikes and generally being kids. Adults play feature roles in the 1986 story. Eddie’s mum’s job working at an abortion clinic attracts a lot of bad feeling particularly from the local vicar who organises protests and winds up getting punched by Eddie’s dad at Fat Gav’s birthday party.
Fat Gav receives a bucket of chalks for a birthday present and the friendship group starts communicating with each other using chalk men drawn outside each others houses. Eventually one of these leads to the body being discovered (later in the book) though the story is really about working out who killed this girl.
In 2006 most of the group are still living in the town though as the story progresses all of them re-appear and you learn more about what has happened to them over the years and why some of them now hate each other.
What was good about it? It was definitely an easy read, a page turner. I thought the characters were quite well done and I liked the retro feel to it. I liked that the story was told from one persons point of view.
What was bad about it? Most of the time I just wasn’t that bothered. By the end I felt the cliffhangers at the end of one chapter and the turn to the other year without fail quite irritating. For the me the flow was interrupted. There was a sexual assault scene in the 1986 story which I found distressing and unnecessary. The abuser was never sufficiently developed to explain why it happened and I didn’t think it brought anything to the book other than an particularly objectionable scene. The chalk man isn’t really as important as the title suggests. The ending was bizarre. I won’t spoil it of course but I have no idea how anyone could get away with that! There’s a slight difference between the smell of dirty socks and the smell of death. Just saying. And I felt that dementia was dealt with either frivolously or in a really scary way. There just seemed to be a lot of things like dementia and sexual abuse, suicide and abortion clinics (and plenty more things like a horrific accident at a fairground, a crazy funeral scene, a poisoned dog…) included to shock, to get attention. Perhaps it was because it was a debut? Perhaps the author felt that they had to get attention? I found it all a bit far fetched to be honest.
Overall:- At points I was reading and thinking this is a 4* book for sure, there were really great parts to it. But overall I just didn’t really enjoy it. I think it is a 2.5* book. Given that it is a debut and there was some good writing in it I would maybe venture back to read further offerings from this author but in the grand scheme of things there are far too many books in the world to waste time on the mediocre. Too late for me of course!