This little book was quite a find. Ever since I read Clegg’s novella Purity, I’ve been on the look-out for him; he’s popular in the United States but hard to find here in the UK. Then one Sunday afternoon, as I was leafing through a cardboard box at a car boot sale, I came across Neverland. I noticed that it was a US edition, and I later found out from Clegg’s website that it went out of print shortly after its publication in 1991, and has never been back in print since (except as a deluxe limited edition in 2003). Glancing inside the front cover, I saw that magic number range 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, which means it’s a first edition. To cap it all, the book was in unread condition, and I paid 50p for it!
And now to the story itself. The Jackson family (with the title of the book, you could be forgiven for thinking I’m referring to Michael), consisting of Mum, Dad, two sisters and a 10-year-old boy called Beau, makes its annual summer trip to Gull Island to visit their relatives. The island is a backward, run-down sort of place full of swampland. But creepier than the landscpe is Sumter Monroe, Beau’s cousin – a disturbed boy who likes to do disturbing things. He has a special place of his own, where he goes to play – an old shed near the house which he calls Neverland. This summer, he lets Beau in on a few secrets: in the shed there’s a crate, and in the crate there’s a god called Lucy. Lucy likes sacrifice; young animals and such. And Lucy wants to come out and play. But it’s not all merely cruel fun and games; there is something not quite sane or natural going on with Sumter. Soon, Beau and his sisters are playing his games.
This is a hard book to review because I feel quite ambivalent about it, so I suppose the best thing to do is just try and express that. There’s no doubt Neverland is very well written. Clegg’s style flows brilliantly. The characters are vibrantly drawn, and no one is allowed to become mere cannon fodder. However, the story itself was something of a let-down. I’ve read tales about vague supernatural forces before, and nothing in this one really surprised me. The pace is quite sluggish and all the serious action confined to the closing chapters.
Much of the story is taken up with Beau and his sisters being sucked into their cousin’s wickedness. Personally, I have a hard time enjoying a book that revolves around children learning to defile themselves. One of the oddest parts was when Beau tried to get out of a sticky situation by praying to Lucy. This is just the Christian part of me getting ruffled, but what’s the obvious thing to do when you’re in trouble? Pray to God. Or if you’re a particularly strong athiest, maybe you won’t pray at all. But what does Beauregard Jackson do? He prays to the enemy.
Douglas Clegg’s Purity got me enthused to find more from this author. Sadly, reading Neverland has kind of snuffed that flame.