Chalk is a brittle thing that leaves its mark on the darkest of surfaces.
Aptly named, Paul Cornell‘s latest dark fantasy novel focuses its spotlight on a little town where chalk soil is a natural occurrence. Here, the lives of a handful of teenagers raised in Margaret Thatcher’s England change forever due to a cruel turn of fate. Fate or fundamental human nature of dominating the weak?
No, my dear readers, the book doesn’t explore the philosophy of bullying. It grabs our ears and forces us to see and feel what goes through the mind of a victim who has tasted the extreme nature of power abuse. And what power is that? A popular teenager who is himself a victim of child abuse.
As Paul Cornell has described his work during the cover reveal on TOR.com, he doesn’t expect us to enjoy Chalk. I assure you, sir, I haven’t enjoyed this book. I have cringed, wanted to throw up, tried reading romantic comedy to forget what I have read. Nothing helped. Nothing.
After a week, I am glad I didn’t forget.
Chalk got to me with its graphic details, lack of emotion from the victim who later becomes the monster he wanted to run from, and an unexpectedly feel-good ending. Especially the ending was something that threw me off the track. Who could imagine a book that begins like that would end like this. Oh, right, you wouldn’t know about the this or that.
I suggest you read Chalk if you are ready to get into the head of a teenage boy experiencing a traumatic event that leads to his transformation into the very thing he dreads.
I warn you, or rather, assure you, that you are probably going to hate a few pages or at the least gag at some point. But you are just a reader. Think about those who would have suffered the trauma. My friend, don’t tell me such things or things of similar nature do not happen. They do. You and I both know that. So yes, read it. And please don’t think of Dr. Who when you sit to read Chalk. The author warns you not to.
Wait, that’s not a review! But I don’t know how to express my opinion on this one. I know I have shared my feelings on the subject. But what about the story? I think you already understood. Yes, the writing is brutally honest. I liked the way he built up the intrigue by describing the then class system from the below line:
It’s like the British class system is a magnetic field, and moving a conductor through it produces current.
The background of each key character, their families, and their financial and social status is clear and timely provided. The relationship dynamics between parents and children, students and teachers, and classmates, is a major part of the novel.
I felt that backstory acted like a breather as well as valuable insight into the players quite often as it appeared mostly before or after a scene of action from the main storyline.
The atmosphere, the location, and the characters were vivid and appropriate for the storyline. I appreciate (now, after a week) the clarity of narration. I did wish in almost every page after the trigger event that he had toned down a bit, or I had thrown the book away, but I was reading from a Kindle app on my phone. I couldn’t stop. After the last page, I realized it was over. The book, and my feeling of nausea. Yes, the author has some dark magic of his own.
Magic reminds me, the Waggoner and the Waggoner strongly felt like a case of split personality, especially when the narrator describes the birth of Waggoner version 2.
He was born outside my window, looking at me. That night on the downs, he was baptized into his own self.
This book felt more like a literary fiction than fantasy. I couldn’t think about magic for most of the book before Angie, and her music came along. I am not that accustomed to western music, so I found it difficult to understand the significance of each song. I had to use Google, and I am glad I did. Angie’s use of music to bring a positive influence in other’s lives like ‘healing’ Drake (the original bully) or rescue Elaine from Waggoner’s bullying reminded me of the famous Dumbledore quote, one of my favorites:
“Ah, music”…”A magic beyond all we do here.”
As promised in the blurb, the author did not try to justify Waggoner’s blood lust in the name of revenge.
I have tried my best to keep this review spoiler free. Hope I didn’t give away too much.
All quotes are from the ARC and might be different in the published copy.
Honestly, I couldn’t make up my mind. My prejudices almost forced me to bury my phone deep down under the storage boxes. I took a week to decide on the rating. Don’t judge me if you think otherwise, but I offer this book Four Bohostars.
Why four? Because few books have succeeded in turning me inside out like this one. If I can read details of rape or war crimes and admire an author’s courage, I should be able to appreciate bullies even if it sounds extreme. Thank you, Paul Cornell. I hope I don’t come across another book like this any soon. This one will be etched in my brain for long enough. No sarcasm, honest truth.
Why not five? Because I will never read it again. Because such books are not to be loved. But I insist you read this once. For all the abusers and bullies in the world.