Tom Fletcher writes in a very unusual and distinctive way. It can appear a little haphazard, and for those who like more prosaic styles, maybe a little off-putting. But for me, Fletcher creates a deliberately disjointed and dream like quality with his writing which works very well. It was noticeable in The Leaping, but perhaps because of the theme and setting of this novel, it is even more visible here. This style particularly suits the indeterminable nature of much of the horror in Thing on the Shore.
This novel, like its predecessor, concerns itself with a cast of young characters who work in a call centre. This time in the West Cumbrian coastal town of Whitehaven, rather than the Manchester/Lake District settings of The Leaping. Foremost among these protagonists is Arthur, whose mother drowned in the sea in a possible act of suicide when he was a child. His father, Harry, works at the same call centre, where he is the butt of jokes for his odd behaviour and failing eyesight.
Arthur hates his job and is burdened both by his father, who frequently believes he is talking to his dead wife on the telephone, and by his own unanswered questions about his mother's death. He consoles himself with frequent nights spent by the sea, and the company of his friends and colleagues - mostly an odd assortment of misfits, each introduced to the reader by short, usually unflattering, summations of their character and appearance.
Thing also features one of the characters from The Leaping: Artemis Black, a call centre manager and the villain of this story. He is transferred from his Manchester office to run the operation in Whitehaven and to oversee the installation of a new form of customer service A.I. When he arrives, he quickly sets about making Arthur's and everybody else's lives difficult. Artemis Black, as the name suggests, is presented as an archetype, a parody almost, of the workplace petty tyrant. This archetypal quality underlies the whole approach to the narrative. In places it reads like the exaggerated nightmare of somebody who has spent many years going steadily insane from the boredom of working in a call centre. The presentation of characters almost as caricature is clearly deliberate, but in what is probably the novel's biggest weakness, it's an approach that allows little room for shades of grey.
The events that unfold, aside from the more obvious machinations of Mr Black, are essentially about the boundaries of reality and as such, difficult to describe. The threat in this novel comes from a place of liminality, called the Interstice. It finds its way into our world through the connection to in-between places such as telephone exchanges and perhaps, the sea. There are very clear Lovecraftian elements to this novel and fans of Grand Mythos, will surely be pleased with the references to events in the The Leaping which suggest the development of a shared mythology.
I found this book humorous a lot of the time. There are plenty of funny little aspects of The Thing on the Shore that deserve a mention. There are the numerous pop culture references, the echoes of classic B movie horror; and Fletcher's unabated love affair with Nintendo. Then there are incidental descriptions of the kind of things we've all experienced, such as a man walking into an office and pushing the door open too heavily, causing it to make a loud bang against the wall or the advent of a seagull flying into a window, nonchalantly inserted into a passage of dialogue. There are also quirks of behaviour in the characters, such as the one who wears his gloves when eating crisps because he hates the feel of them on his skin. I have to say, I loved all this stuff. It really appealed to my surreal sense of humour. I know it will not work for everyone, but it did for me. There were also a few minor moments of incredulity, the most noticeable involving a bizarre act of copulation on the beach.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Leaping, and with Thing I find I am developing a real empathy for Fletcher's writing, particularly the stuff going on in the background and the overall presentation of his ideas. The Thing on the Shore is funny, inventive and surreal. A quirky horror story that overlaps the psychological and the supernatural and is difficult to define. Not only is The Thing on the Shore a fine second novel, but one that I think shows the development of a very talented and unconventional writer.