I’ll be writing a full-length review of John Connolly’s THE GATES closer to the publication date (October 1 in the UK), but for now suffice to say that it’s a terrific piece of work that put me in mind of THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. That’s not a comparison I make lightly, as I’m one of those who thinks Douglas Adams was something of a genius in a minor key, but THE GATES has the same qualities: a beautifully wrought tone, a subversively funny take on the intricacies of science (in this case, sub-atomic physics), and a deceptively simple but utterly compelling story.
In essence, young Samuel Johnson (with his loyal dachshund Boswell) takes on the might of Satan and Hell’s legions armed with little more than an irrepressible curiosity, a nascent sense of civic duty and a generous dollop of courage. At 40 years old I’m probably not the best judge in the world of this, but to me the secret of this particular success is that Connolly has tapped into the mind of a young boy of ‘perhaps eleven’ to give us the world as seen through Samuel’s eyes. It’s perhaps clichéd to say it, but in doing so the world is remade vividly in all its wonders, horrors and banalities.
Samuel’s age and the way in which Connolly blends reality and mythology will very probably draw comparisons to THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, but – at the risk of offending teen wizard fans – this has more in common with the Harry Potter books in its apocalyptic battle between good and evil, albeit – and this is one of its major strengths – without the good guys having recourse to magic. Unless, of course, you consider the esoteric mysteries of quantum physics a kind of magic, which I do.
Anyway, the bottom line is that THE GATES is a novel that should achieve the elusive crossover by appealing to both adults and children, and the whispers I’m hearing about a further two books in the series bode well (and will hopefully see the return of Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities). In the meantime, Chapter 1 can be found here …
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.