Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Gates, A Novel

Title: The Gates, a Novel
Author: John Connolly
Themes: evil, loyalty, kindness, adventure, trust
Rating: ****

Plot: Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween, which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don't mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe, a gap through which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out...

Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith, and love to save the world as we know it?

Bursting with imagination and impossible to put down, The Gates is about the pull between good and evil, physics and fantasy. It is about a quirky and eccentric boy, who is impossible not to love, and the unlikely cast of characters who give him the strength to stand up to a demonic power.

In this wonderfully strange and brilliant novel, John Connolly manages to re-create the magical and scary world of childhood that we've all left behind but so love to visit. And for those of you who thought you knew everything about particle physics and the universe, think again. This novel makes anything seem possible.

My Thoughts: The Gates is rather whimsical and lighthearted considering its about the gates of Hell opening on earth (I think most of us would find that a little dreary). I knew I would have to read this book, since I have read Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and immensely enjoyed it. What I didn't expect from The Gates is the childlike and whimsical narrative style (akin to The Willoughbys and Tigerheart) that reads like a clever Victorian narrator who is both part of the story and withdrawn from it.

Samuel is a likable protagonist, and I found his plight of being a child in trying times (who would believe an adult that demons are coming en mass, much less an eccentric child?) to be well described and relatable. Boswell, I think, ended up being my favorite character. Yes, he's a dachshund, but I think he was an essential part of the storyline and kept Samuel safe through the onslaught of demons from Hell. I did find his two friends to be rather one-dimensional, but perhaps this is because they only showed up at the very end of the book and had no opportunity to be fleshed out. Samuel's mother was also rather flat, she was simply a stereotypical newly-single mom who has been left with a child by her cheating husband.

The cast of secondary characters is impressive, however. The book has a large cast of demons, church members, police officers, neighbors, children, and duck club members who all have a moment or two of action in the narrative. The chapters are short, and when all Hell breaks loose we catch glimpses of the chaos around Biddlecombe. We observe demons getting smashed at a local bar, duck hunters turned to stone by a medusa, the local vicar being attacked by the gargoyles and carvings on his church in addition to the evil corpses surrounding it in unconsecrated ground. There is also the hierarchy of demons, one of which is a rather low ranking Nurd who befriends Samuel and fears the coming of The Great Malevolence even more than the humans do.

One final aspect of The Gates that I wish to comment on is the science. You see, the gates of Hell don't just conjure themselves up-it is in fact a type of black/wormhole that opens up because of an experiment being conducted in Europe. The opening of the novel is itself a simplified explanation of how such phenomena as black holes operate, and different theories of a multiverse and traveling through wormholes are also emphasized. Keep in mind that there are footnotes littered throughout the novel, and they are best read at the appropriate marked time-not before or after you have finished the whole page.

Recommendation: I found The Gates to be both whimsical and titillating, there is science, religion, action, adventure, and friendship. Many aspects of the book seem to appeal to children, but this is a book for adults. I would highly recommend this latest book from Connolly, so give it a look and read it.

Random Excerpt: "He looked around, and saw one of his socks lying at the end of his bed. As an experiment he leaned down to pick up the sock, then dangled it over the edge of the mattress before dropping it on the floor.

A long pink thing that might have been a tongue, or an arm, or even a leg, grabbed the sock and pulled it under the bed. Samuel heard chewing, and then the sock was spat out and a voice said, 'Ewwwww!'" (page 82, Hardcover)

Similar Reads: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, (similar narrative style:) Tigerheart by Peter David, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Connolly, John. The Gates, a Novel. New York: Atria Books, 2009.

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