I found this book on a trip to the Salvation Army. Its creepy cover called out to me first, and I bought it for 80 cents. (There was a 20% discount that day) I don’t think I’ve actually ever gotten a book for less than a dollar, so, er, this was a first.
I’ve never heard of Hugh Scott, but the cover of the book announced that it was a Whitbread Children’s Novel winner, so I had pretty high hopes for my find. Did these hopes pan out? Unfortunately, not so much.
The story begins with Gilbert and his elder sister Saxon, going about their daily routine in an abandoned museum. Living in an isolated, almost post-apocalyptic world, we follow the children around as try to recall the past and survive the present, all the while making do with the various dangers that plague them in the ruins they reside in. Things like rats, hunger, dust, and of course, the one terrifying being they call the “Brogan”, a thing that lives at the top to the museum stairs, a thing hideous and unnatural, but which they feel compelled to feed daily. So begins the unravelling of the mystery – of where the children are, how long they’ve been there, and if they’re the only humans left in the world. And the overshadowing question of what the Brogan wants, and what exactly happened in the past they cannot clearly remember.
This is not a long book. Clocking a mere 102 pages, it appears to be an easy read, but I found it tedious to get through in one sitting. Hugh Scott’s prose is simple and sparse, almost a factual narration of the day to day activities of the children. He uses repetition of both words and structure to slowly build a world that is slowly but surely closing in and falling apart, a claustrophobic self-contained universe, a universe the children need to find the courage to escape from. The problem though, was the almost clinical tone of his work – I wanted to care more for the characters, but they didn’t feel fully fleshed out enough for me to do so. The repetitive story structure also dragged down the pacing of the story, making a short tale feel long and rather tedious.
The one heart-rending moment comes at the end of the book, a moment I thought the tale hinged too much upon, but was so good in itself that it sent chills down my spine. Would I recommend the book? I would, if only because it’s a short read to get to the spine-chilling revelation at the end. But it’s not a book I would pick up again to reread anytime soon.