The Electric, by Andrew David Barker, pub. Boo Books (ISBN 9780992728540)
I picked up The Electric at FantasyCon last year, despite all my promises. Even I can see that I own far too many books already (with hundreds still waiting to be read), but what can I say? It called out to me. A good friend of mine had mentioned it as one to watch out for, and there it was; a numbered, limited edition hardback. Well, if you’re going to splash out at a convention, you may as well get something you can’t pick up anywhere else. It cost me an eye-watering £18 but you know what… looking over at it now (the echoes of the narrative still reverberating across my mind) it was worth every penny. Of course, you can snag it for a much more reasonable price now, since the paperback edition has been released, but I doubt you’ll treasure it any less. It positively exudes Quality.
The plot is deceptively simple: a boy discovers a forgotten old cinema that plays impossible new movies from long-dead film stars. During their final summer holiday together, Sam and his friends investigate its history and learn ghosts haunt both sides of the flickering screen. The book doesn’t set out to shock, scare or surprise; just to put you in a specific place and a specific time, and share a particular mood. If you’re thinking Stand By Me with a dose of Stephen Spielberg, you’re in the right ball-park. Bang on, in fact. (Hollywood is currently considering a film adaptation.) The Electric is a love song to childhoods lost and long hot summers. It’s a character piece, full of acute observations and poignant reflection. It’s the finest of comfort foods and the dearest of friends. This may be Andrew David Barker’s first novel but it reads like pure poetry.
The three children are an engaging pack of characters, with sparky relationships, distinct personalities and layers of nuance. Each comes with a public front, a more private side and something that gnaws at their roots. I was impressed by how much of the unsaid Barker managed to convey, and was moved to reconsider some of the people from my own past. Children are experts at misunderstanding and over-reacting, after all. Sam is the wistful narrator; an adult now, looking back at the most important summer of his life. He is a soft-spoken, artistic sort, making close and vivid observations of everything around him. He’s not one of nature’s leaders or warriors, but he has deep feelings and wants to understand the world. David is the more fun-loving, mischievous type. He’s easily wounded but always ready to jump back into the fray. Emma is full of life; outspoken, self-confident and wry. She loves horror movies and gets frustrated by childish behaviour. Needless to say, the boys worship her.
I could go into much greater depth about the story and the characters but I find myself reluctant to do so. The Electric is more than a book – just as its namesake is more than a cinema – it’s an experience to dive into and wallow in. It’s a link to the past and a way to think about what’s really important about life. Its heart beats beautiful pulses of nostalgia and grief, but it is full of affirmation too: the joy of discovery; the value of insight; the depths of friendship, love and family ties, and the powerful cement of a shared experience. This is not a long book, so I was surprised at how much time it took me to read. Only as I drew near the end, did I realise why. I had been savouring it. I wanted those last few pages to stretch on and on because I didn’t want to let it go. Christ, I found myself actually hugging the book afterwards. Some of you will be rolling your eyes right about now. If so, The Electric may not be for you. Not everyone has the eyes to see. But if you find yourself yearning to experience that ‘strange electric quality,’ step on through to the auditorium and join us in the Know. You won’t regret it.
GS Rating: 5/5
GS Blogger: Dion Winton-Polak