Monday, 20 December 2010

James Herbert - The Dark

Many people get rid of books. The lucky books get given to charity and the most unfortunate go straight to the tip often with a half eaten sandwich or rotting fruit. I witnessed this sight, just the other day and it saddened me deeply. That’s why I jumped at the chance to rescue a few books from suffering a similar fate. The Dark was one of these lucky books to be plucked from the brink of destruction. It was in a crate on a pavement with a sign saying, ‘help yourself.’ So I took it.

At first I was pleased with my find: compelling protagonist; check. A saucy love interest; check. The grounds for a spine tingling scary thriller; check. But after writing the first thirty page, it seems that James Herbert decided to abandon all the rules of putting together a well structured paragraph for the rest of the book.

Looking back over my notes, the first glaring error occurs on page 36. By glaring, I mean a simple line break would have fixed it but let’s take our first trip to grammar corner and examine the inner workings of the error:

There are two characters in the scene, Bob and Les. The sentence goes as follows:

‘See anything Les?’ He glanced angrily towards Bob who had crept stealthily up the front path.

According to this sentence, not only is Les talking to himself but he is also getting angry at Bob in the process. Dangling modifier equals bad writing. This kind of thing happens throughout the book but this is the worst example. Many paragraphs are written from multi-perspectives with what appears to be a complete lack of control or awareness of the English language.

I could go on listing the silly errors... so I will. Miss Kirkhope, an elderly rich lady, has a maid from Portugal or Spain or something. The point is English is not her first language, yet throughout her earlier scenes, she speaks better English than me. Then a little later, she says, ‘Miss Kirkhope will see you much soon.’ Now, this is either a typo or a character inconsistency and I’m not sure which is worse.

Towards the end, the non-word, ‘foosteps’ is used, but this is the more forgivable of the offenses. It may seem like I’m being a bit picky, but the point is, if the mistakes are noticeable, the editing should have been more thorough and if the story stinks, they stick out even more.

The worst thing about the book is the basic paragraph structure. It becomes tiring trying to keep up with the volume of different perspectives the story is being told from, and in scenes with a few characters and a lot of action it becomes hard to work out what’s going on. When reading the fight scenes, the only thing I could picture was that comic dust could with the occasional limb poking out and ‘bang’ and ‘pow’ written around it.

I don’t like talking about how books end, so I won’t go into any details, but I will say this. James Herbert hasn’t really grasped the concept of the horror genre. The whole storyline is fine until halfway, then the writing errors begin to ruin the story, then Herbert completely destroys it with the most nonsensical conclusion ever. The worst part is that you could see where it was going but it still didn’t make any sense, and that’s where the writer should be feeling ashamed of himself. The whole point of horror being scary is that it’s believable, and if it’s not believable then it has to at least make sense in its own context. James Herbert has achieved a double fail for writing an unbelievable horror that doesn’t make sense.

I would honestly recommend The Dark as a future creative writing set text. That way, lecturers could use it as an example of what not to do. They could even set tasks where the students have to find as many mistakes as possible. Perhaps the winner could be awarded a prize... some chocolate perhaps.

The Dark by James Herbert was published by New English Library in 1980. RRP £3.50 (Paperback)

The Dark is also being reprinted for release in October 2011, RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

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