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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Prospect of Happiness, 22 Mar. 2010
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This review is from: Never the Bride (Brenda 1) (Paperback)
Bride: "A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her" - Ambrose Bierce

Part of what marked Paul Magrs' "Doctor Who" books out from the tie-in herd is the plethora of ideas which seemed to pour out from his head onto the page, with one insanely wonderful concept following the next like a series of bright marbles thudding down a wooden staircase. Glass men and cardboard UNIT captains tumble after mutating gila monsters and time splicing pinking shears; manipulative power-mad poodles bound alongside fantastically-endowed Robins, the Queen of Spring and Tom Baker-shaped sex robots; and a TARDIS in the shape of a double decker bus putters down behind the lot of them, a gin-soaked old harpy at the wheel.

On the other hand, in the non-Who world Magrs started off writing 'traditional' magic realist novels. Interesting and imaginative ones, as well written as you would expect, but in certain ways deliberately limited by their chosen form. It was only in Who that he appeared to really let rip and in doing so created work which you really can't imagine anyone else doing.

With his previous novel, "To the Devil - a Diva" Magrs began to bring more of the style of his Who novels into his mainstream work, but it's only in "Never the Bride" that a wholly successful mix has been achieved.

There are obvious similarities between the two novels and in some ways "To the Devil" can be seen as a rehearsal for "Never the Bride" - specifically in that both novels use the tropes and trappings of horror movies to weave a truly fantastic tale set in contemporary England.

It's an interesting point, actually - for Magrs to write this kind of book, he needs something to play with, something to roll between his fingers, mutate and subvert. In these two novels, Magrs utilised the long history of respectively, the Hammer and Universal horror film collections and gently tweaked their tails while creating something altogether new from the base material.

There is still a leavening of the grittiness of his early novels, which is all to the good (the depiction of the submerged loneliness of the two leads is particularly well done), but "Never the Bride" isn't a 'literary' novel in the sense that, say, his earlier "Could it be Magic?" was. This is a piece of work informed by the visual not written media, where the creations of James Whale and Tod Browning, not Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, come flocking to Joss Whedon's Hellmouth - only to be confronted not by the petite Sarah Michelle Gellar, but by Elsa Lanchester as the 'monsterous' Bride of Frankenstein.

Or Brenda the B&B Lady as he's known to her friends in Whitby.

Which is the point at which "To the Devil" and "Never the Bride" deviate. "To the Devil" has been described, pretty unfairly, as a "Harry Potter parody for naughty big boys" - it's a lazy comparison, but it is fair to say that To the Devil could easily be made into a big-screen extravaganza in the Potter mould, filled with visual spectacle and colourful set-pieces. The characters remain true to their reassuringly recognisable roots - Karla is a Hammer queen in the mould of Ingrid Pitt, Lance is the archetypal soap star and so on - and the urban Manchester and flashback evacuee settings are ones which viewers might expect and which they are likely to be comfortable with, and the Wheatley-esque elements provide a cinema-friendly frisson of the occult.

"Never the Bride", on the other hand, could only be filmed if Tim Burton or David Lynch wanted to do it as a TV series. It's set in a small old-fashioned town, there's a plethora of monsters, the good guys and bad guys are not who you might initially expect and swap places now and again, the novel ends with a ton of loose ends and the story line is really a set of linked short stories rather than a linear threaded narrative. It's very clear that this is a deliberate ploy by the author - each chapter is a different self-contained episode with the entire novel as a season arc, as Brenda and Effie bustle about town investigating sinister goings-on and bitching about their neighbours, as though Mapp and Lucia had become friends and turned detective. Affectionate nods to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Most Haunted and Twin Peaks serve to cement the feeling of a TV series in prose.

It's beautifully paced and enormously well-written, with some absolute killer lines - and it's got more ideas in it than a dozen JK Rowling books.

Paul Magrs has created his own universe in which to play and, as readers, we can only be happy.
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