Book Review: Killing the Dead

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Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick, is one of this year’s World Book Day £1 books for young adults. Having read and enjoyed The Ghosts of Heaven I noted the spiral on the cover and was eager to get hold of a copy before bookshops sold out. These specially produced offerings are only available for a short time.

Set in an exclusive girls’ boarding school in the nineteen-sixties the story explores the aftermath of a pupil’s apparent suicide. Like the four stories in The Ghosts of Heaven it contains references to spirals and suggestions of superstition. The writing is taut with undercurrents of mystery and unanswered questions. The atmosphere evoked is spooky in places but always believable.

At just over 100 pages this book can be quickly read but is a complete and thought provoking tale. Within the confines of dormitory life what impact does one girl’s actions have on others? What secrets do they keep? While teachers continue to believe that the beautiful and clever are good how can those who go unnoticed survive the casual cruelty inflicted by the entitled? The denouement brings home how lonely and difficult life can be for those who do not fit within society’s view of that which one should admire and to which one should aspire.

This is the third book that I have read by the author and cements my admiration for his style of writing. He spins a compelling tale that is hard to put down.

“The most important person in this story is the one you will never meet. She is gone and yet she lingers, in the memories of those who knew her and lived with her. This is how the dead survive; they live in our memories, and some of the times that is a good thing and beautiful, and other times it is not good, and then the dead are like a virus in the blood, an infection of the mind. Then, although we might wish to get rid of them forever, we cannot. We might even wish to kill them, but that is a mighty and nigh impossible thing, for killing the dead is very hard to do.”

Book Review: The Ghosts of Heaven

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The Ghosts of Heaven was printed in Golden Ratio, from which the logarithmic spiral can be derived.

The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick, contains four separate yet interconnected stories that wind through time like the spiral from which they are each inspired. The writing is lyrical with dark undercurrents, disturbing in places yet full of hope. It is suggested that the tales may be read in any order and still make sense. Certainly each stands on its own but also adds depth to those read before.

The first quarter of the book is set in the time of prehistoric hunter gatherers when marks in caves were linked to magic and writing had not yet been invented. The second quarter introduces us to a young girl, newly orphaned, who becomes the victim of a powerful church hunting down witches. The third quarter is set in the last century at a lunatic asylum where the lines between madness and sanity become blurred. The fourth quarter is set in a futuristic spaceship where a lone sentinel discovers that all is not as it seems.

Each tale is richly imagined with compelling story lines and intelligent, questioning characters. It is the questions that they ask, the thought processes they explore, that add to the intrigue. The reader is lead to philosophise alongside, to consider where they have come from, why they are there, and where they may be going.

Although classified as for Young Adults I enjoyed this book for what it is, a work of fiction that entertains and gently challenges without preaching. The darkness that has always existed in the hearts of some men is examined alongside a perception of supposed progress. The denouement of the final tale is pitch-perfect.

Four quarters make a whole and life goes on, spiralling ever upwards or downwards depending on how it is viewed. It takes skill to present complex ideas in such an accessible way. This book is story telling at its best.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher through Goodreads as a ‘First Reads’ giveaway.