Tom Fletcher’s 2010 debut horror novel The Leaping was an eye opener in the direction of the new blood emerging on the circuit in its skilled author; it was also a breath of fresh air in regards to his approach to the genre.
At its heart lay a group introspective, an exploration of relationships, platonic and otherwise, within a circle of friends. And beneath this lay a slumbering, brutal tale that was equally raw, honest, and often times beautiful and bleak. Oh yes, and there was a bucket load of Mario Kart thrown in for good measure.
With The Thing on the Shore there’s a continuation of many of the same themes that made The Leaping so endearing, and compulsive. Yet there’s also a twist to the yarn that makes this book stand up for analysis on its own as equally well as its forebear.
Geographically, in this book, there’s a move coastward to the small town of Whitehaven. The job market here is far from ideal, and the call centre run by Outsourcing Unlimited is relied on by many as a source of employment. To say there’s something rotten here would be an understatement though, and as many of its staff might suspect, the management almost definitely doesn’t have their best interests in heart.
Arthur lives with a heavy shadow over his heart from when his mother died almost fifteen years previous. Many issues surrounding the nature of her death, in a surreal plunge from a cliff, remain unspoken between his father and himself. His father has turned to drink, and his sanity appears crumbling in the years since, and both are dependent on the call centre for their living. Around them things decay, figuratively and literally.
Luckily he has a support group of friends there for him, albeit quirky and strange, though equally endearing, they meander on as best they can, taking what challenges are thrown at them with wry humour and perseverance. But life isn’t easy – and it seems to be getting harder as the border between reality in this bleak place, and whatever else may lie beyond in the great unknown, appears to be being challenged by malign forces.
Whether it’s the sea throwing up insidious and organic corruptions, or phone calls that shouldn’t be, not forgetting visitations of other dimensions, Fletcher continues to busy the reader’s mind with his melting pot of ideas, never tiring to try out new tactics to weave his tale.
Given the nod to Lovecraft that might be decoded from the title and certain other plot strands, most especially to the sea itself, there isn’t any heavy overdose of clichéd Innsmouth-style ramblings here, and this vehicle is one that Fletcher’s own imagination is firmly grasping the wheel of at all times.
Fletcher is definitely unique, both in his writing style and the organisation of his prose. Quite often I read books that are formulaic in their approach (a to b to c plot devices), and it can get tiring. When reading The Thing on the Shore I definitely became more aware of how different his writing style was to many others out there, and how pleasant a change that was.
It’s like he won’t be rushed, or forced into doing things other than his way. This might not suit everyone’s reading style, but I enjoyed this a lot. In The Leaping this was apparent with something of a drawn out gap between the start and finish of the book; but it worked well. Similarly in this book, the pacing can at times seem chaotic but it matches the undercurrents, the ebb and flow of the text, perfectly.
As the book reaches its conclusion there’s still a good air of mystery. There’s also a mythos brewing here, and that alone makes me stick a post-it note in my diary for this time next year in the hopes of another related book. One additional mention: Fletcher writes about elements of contemporary life, specifically video game culture, with an adeptness and maturity that I’ve yet to see paralleled. A portion early on in the book talking about a woman’s relationship with a videogame, Animal Crossing, totally blew me away, it was so well handled.
The Thing on the Shore is a creepy, unsettling and ultimately haunting read. In this world, the malignance of human ignorance and greed are as evil as the supernatural machinations that are being carefully nurtured and crafted throughout. With these, Fletcher has staked a claim on his corner of this genre, and is one of several British authors who’re making a strong impression on the horror scene at the moment. Good luck to him; long may he keep it up. And a bit more Mario Kart next time won’t go amiss.