Magazine article The Spectator

'A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better', by Benjamin Wood - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better', by Benjamin Wood - Review

Article excerpt

A lingeringly strange atmosphere hangs about Benjamin Wood's third novel, in which the settings and paraphernalia of a new wave of British weird fiction -- old children's TV series, rustic bloodletting, the starkness of the northern landscape -- encroach steadily on a retrospective story of childhood murder and deceit.

The setting is northern England in the early 1990s, as the young Daniel Hardesty, a bookish 12-year-old, embarks on a road trip to Yorkshire with his estranged dad Francis, a jobbing stage carpenter, philanderer and liar. They're on their way to the set of The Artifex, the sci-fi TV drama on which Francis works and with which his son is obsessed. Fictional, of Wood's own creation, and with fragments interspersed throughout the text, the series comes across as a weird-science British crossbreed of Catweazle and The X-Files. Since Daniel's narrative begins by enumerating 'the items that were in my father's glove box, catalogued the day his car was found by the police', it's hardly a spoiler to say that father and son end up somewhere much darker than the studios of Yorkshire Television.

For Daniel, the trip involves a shattering loss of innocence; for his father, a terrible gain in experience. The unevenness in Francis's character is noted at the outset, when Daniel's long-suffering mother remarks on the 'two weathers' in his personality, between which 'he could switch without warning, without reason'. As the road trip sours and Francis's frustrations mount, he graduates from easy, boastful, mendacious charm to a new and chilly psychopathy. …

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