Neverland by Douglas Clegg

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.

Purity by Douglas Clegg

This is the first Douglas Clegg novel I’ve read, and it’s also the first ebook I have read. For a time, it was available for download free from Clegg’s website. I wish more authors would follow this example. Consider all the authors you pass by on the bookshelves, thinking that they might be good, that you might get around to trying them out someday. Why not give the readers a little free taster to get them interested? Well, Clegg has done just that. And he has created a new fan in me, and who knows how many more besides.

Purity is a novel (or novella, if we want to be particular) about a love triangle. First there is Owen, a boy who has spent his entire life on a remote island. Then there is Jenna, a girl who comes to the island every summer – a girl whom Owen grew up with and loves with a passion. Enter Jimmy, handsome, educated and oozing with money – Jenna’s new boyfriend. The purity of the title refers to the single-minded desire to have something or someone. As you may have guessed, things get ugly between these three people, but in ways that will surprise you.

The beauty of this novel in the characters. No one is allowed to be mere cannon-fodder for the story. Everyone is intricately drawn with their individual personalities and viewpoints, making them ooze with life. Usually it’s good practice for an author to make his central characters likeable, in order to help the reader care about what happens to them. Clegg doesn’t take that approach. There are some really dislikable characteristics in them all – especially Owen – and yet I found myself strangely gripped by these people’s lives. They were just so real.

One odd aspect of this story is the inclusion of Dagon, especially for a story that does not quite fit the description horror. Dagon is the fish-god from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft – in particular from the novella The Shadow over Innsmouth. So, for Lovecraft fans, there’s a little something extra for you here. But don’t be expecting bulbous eyeballs and writhing tentacles. Purity is not a Cthuluhu mythos tale, and it’s certainly not necessary to have read Lovecraft before tackling it.

As for the ebook format, my personal opinion is that it will never rise to equal or outshine real books. People are just not comfortable reading for long periods from a screen and would sooner spend money on a paperback than a ream of A4 paper for their printer. Reading Purity from the screen, I broke this up into far more sessions that I would have done otherwise. But whatever the future holds for the ebook format, there’s no doubt it’s a great promotional tool.

Purity is a tale about love and obsession and madness. Sometimes touching, sometimes shocking. Highly recommended. Douglas Clegg is on my watchlist from here on in.