A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This review was supposed to be up last week but instead I went into hospital, so I think you can cut me a bit of slack. However I’m absolutely fine, in rude health actually with all test results normal and not a single thing wrong with me (physically)…so normal service can resume.
You may remember that a couple of years ago I shared my love for an extraordinary little book called A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. My love for this book was (and still is) obsessive and all consuming and family, friends and colleagues were on the cusp of staging an intervention for my own good. Well, you can imagine my utter joy at the news that Mr Shelton had produced another masterpiece. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me whoop for joy.
Thirteen Chairs is aimed at the older reader rather than the little ones. It begins with a boy called Jack who enters a room in a house. The room is lit by candlelight and has a circular table at which there are thirteen chairs. Twelve chairs are occupied and Jack sits in the thirteenth. Each of the people in the chairs tells a story and then blows out their candle. As the room gets darker, we begin to wonder what is actually going on and Jack begins to dread that eventually he’ll have to tell a story of his own.
Jack stands in the dark on the landing of the old house, and looks at his feet. He is outside the last of the three doors, the one that is underlined with flickering light. He doesn’t move. He stares down at the twin crescents of light reflecting on the toes of his shoes. He looks at the thin highlights along the edges of the bare wooden floorboards and at the pattern of grain in the wood in the pale puddle of light that leaks under the door. He has been here for minutes, his hand on the door handle, debating whether or not to go in. Common sense insists that he must not, because there is no way of knowing what might be inside. But curiosity insists the opposite, for the same reason.
And Jack is a curious boy.
So he holds a breath, behind clamped lips, turns the handle and goes in. And there they are, twelve of them, sat around a big circular wooden table and looking at him as the door creaks loudly to announce his arrival. It takes them a moment to see them properly – the room is only dimly lit by candles, but after the darkness outside it still seems bright – and takes his eyes some time to adjust. When they do, and the indistinct figures settle into focus, it is the pale man, furthest from Jack, whom he notices first.
The pale man introduces Jack to each person around the table in turn and they welcome him before the pale man asks, ‘Shall we begin?’ Mr Blackmore starts by telling a story called Let Me Sleep, the story of a pickpocket turned murderer who is haunted by his victim. There’s a story about a car crash, one about about vicious cats, a playground bullying and someone who writes obsessively.
Jack ties them all together with his increasing wonderment at why he is there, what his purpose is and eventually his terror at being the last one at the table to tell a story.
The joy of each of these individual, chilling tales the uniqueness of every single voice. It’s quite extraordinary how once the pale man introduces you to the next guest at the table you focus in on them and are swept away by their narrative. Each totally different, each completely compelling and absorbing. The writing is of course outstanding but the way it is consistently outstanding across thirteen different voices is quite magnificent.
This is a chilling and creepy mixture of short stories, not for the faint hearted. I wouldn’t call it horror, there’s nothing slasher or gratuitously violent or outrageously gory here. These are moments of weird or of strange. They give you shivers on the back of your neck and make you sleep with the light on…or resolve never to own a cat.
I heartily recommend you go out and find a copy of Thirteen Chairs, if only to experience how masterful a writer Mr Shelton is and to experience the chill of some outstanding tales.