Chalk by Paul Cornell (book review)

In a forgotten world, a boy seeks to live a normal life. The forgotten world is Britain in the 1970s and the boy lives in rural England. His daily life is full of pain, that being the specialist subject of the school bully, Drake and his gang. Andrew Waggoner tries to be invisible. He hopes the group would move on to another of the school losers. It’s pure self-preservation. Andrew is a fish out of water. Moving from public to state school, he is targeted for both who he is and who he is not. It all comes down to fear of the unknown and it’s not just Andrew’s fear.

This boy has within him a sense of the absurd, a joy of life that sees him retain some optimism about how things might turn out. He thinks so deeply that he cannot see that he is setting himself up for even more distress. A disastrous choice of outfit for the annual Halloween Fancy Dress school disco makes sure he is the object of the gang’s attention but no one could imagine the result. The awful encounter with Drake and his gang leaves him terribly injured and the reader stunned.

This is the night that creates something new. Andrew is damaged but a primeval force for vengeance is made which opens the doors to bringing some greater evil to rural Wiltshire.

Deeper than deep, this book drips with pain. If you have ever been bullied in any way, you will find this traumatic. ‘Chalk’ is a clever and disturbing vision of how violence begets violence and silence leads to deeper trauma. As children, we don’t always believe adults can solve our problems with other children. We may agonise about why we are chosen to be the victim. We may be relieved when it passes on to someone else and feel the related survivor guilt. Bullying wrecks lives and, although this book is also about the supernatural, it is always the very human situation that really hits home.

I though this story worked very well. Creating something that takes revenge is in the heart of every child who is bullied. The mixing up of this with the supernatural elements works well to continue to create feat and uncertainly. The ending is powerful and perhaps unexpected. A really interesting and enjoyable outing for Paul Cornell.

Sue Davies

April 2017

(pub: TOR. 260 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.99 (US), £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-76539-095-0)

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