The more Robert Swindells novels I read, the more I realise that he has two modes of writing. When he’s writing for young adults, he writes like he’s talking to equals; he talks about the world the way it is; few, if any, subjects are taboo; and bad things can happen to good people, as can happen in the real world. When he writes like this, his fiction is gripping and, I would dare to say, important. Then comes the other mode, writing for children, where the realistic drama disappears and everything turns one-dimensional; the kiddies get safely wrapped in cotton wool.
I know there are some classic novels that are very “safe” books for children, such as Tolkien’s The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The characters in these novels are far from realistic, and yet I still enjoyed them. So what exactly is the point I’m trying to make? I can’t put my finger on it, but something vital is missing from Swindells’ novels, when writes for children. Everything just turns to cardboard.
Sadly, The Thousand Eyes of Night was written with kids in mind. It concerns an abandoned railway tunnel, within which killer mice reside. Actually, they’re not real mice; they’re tiny aliens from a doomed planet in orbit around Betelgeuse. I’ve got no problem spoiling that for you, because Swindells spoils it in the first paragraph of the novel. Yes, hiding that fact might have added a sinister air of mystery to the whole story, but Swindells puts all his cards on the table at the start of the game.
The story moves along at a fairly slow pace. Tan (short for Tristan) is the central character. The tunnel is the play area for he and his friends, and the discovery of a dead body with its flesh picked clean to the bone leads them on the trail of the weird mice. The story is padded out with parent troubles and a sub-plot about the local bully. Around page 175 we get to the final showdown, which is practically summarised in only ten pages. It seemed as if the author got bored and wanted things finished quickly.
A disappointing children’s novel from an author I’ve grown to respect a great deal for his contribution to literature for older readers.