4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Hell on Earth,
This review is from: The Boy Who Could See Demons (Paperback)
You don't need to look beyond the terrifically catchy title to see the Carolyn Jess-Cooke's follow-up to her debut novel The Guardian Angel's Journal uses a similar fantasy construct to the earlier novel, where events in "real life" are witnessed and influenced by supernatural beings. If the concept is similar, using this device to find a way to reflect on deeply traumatic experiences that would otherwise make very painful reading, The Boy Who Could See Demons manages to make that idea work much better, with strong well-defined characters that allow us the reader to make a deeper connection with them.
There was a sense of disconnect in the use of angels in the earlier book that didn't allow the reader to really feel the pain, keeping them distant from the experience and unable to truly sympathise with the characters. It's ironic then that we are able to gain a much fuller picture of someone who is enduring great distress and mental turmoil by seeing it expressed in, if you like, demonic possession. If we were to view the story solely through the eyes of Alex however, a ten-year old Belfast boy who is taken into care after an attempted suicide by his mother, his actions directed by demons that only he can see, it would be fascinating and entertaining view of a dark subject, but it would be nowhere near as complete were we not also to have the outside view of Anya, a psychiatrist who has recently returned to the province.
Part of the reason why this works better in the new book, I think, is that the author seems to be really examining her own life experiences, coming to terms with the place she grew up - Northern Ireland - and in The Boy Who Could See Demons, in Alex, in Anya, but also in Ruen, a Harrower from the darkest depths of Hell, she finds a novel and expansive way to reconnect with the people who have lived through the hurt, pain and violence of the Troubles. Inevitably, taking on such a vast subject and trying to find a way to resolve decades of trauma through psychiatric analysis techniques somewhat oversimplifies matters that defy such an easy resolution, but - like The Guardian Angel's Journal - there is enough ambiguity left in the fantasy concept to account for this.
It's a sense of the author's greater personal involvement in the characters however that really makes the difference in The Boy Who Could See Demons. There's a real sense of a unique personality at work in Alex - he's not just a symbol for a younger generation - and Carolyn Jess-Cooke's own personality (I presume from her other non-fiction work and interests) feeds through into Anya, whose own life experiences make her more than just a means to help Alex work through his problems. Rather wonderfully, there's also real personality in the demon Ruen - but I wouldn't like to speculate on the dark places the author must have gone to do that so well! Combined, they make this a thought-provoking work that deals with a very serious subject in an involving and entertaining way through its very unusual concept.