Clive Barker – The Thief of Always
32. The Thief of Always by Clive Barker (1992)
Length: 268 pages
Genre: Mid-Grade Fantasy
Started/Finished: 27 April 2013 (readathon!)
Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? It went on my wishlist back when I read Abarat. (Confidential to Dave: Yes, Clive Barker.)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 January 2010.
In this house, it is
always summer, but also
always Christmas Eve.
Summary: Ten-year-old Harvey Swick has grown bored with his life – school and home and homework and chores, nothing seems really exciting anymore. And then he receives a visit from a strange man who promises him a vacation at the nearby Holiday House. Harvey takes him up on his offer, and at first, the Holiday House is everything he could wish for – a perfect summer day every day, followed by Halloween at dusk and then Thanksgiving and Christmas at night, all powered by the mysterious Mr. Hood. But the longer Harvey stays there, the more suspicious he starts to get. What’s really at the heart of the Holiday House? And what will happen when he wants to go home?
Review: This book is aimed at mid-grade readers, so it was pretty fast fare for an adult. (large print, plus a fair number of Barker’s great illustrations.) I’m a little ambivalent about this book – it was sort of half-creepy and half-cute, and I sort of found myself wishing it would commit to being one or the other. Basically, I spent a lot of time wishing things were more developed than they were – the characters, the underlying mythology of the house, the complexity of the plot, the scary parts, the sad parts, the sweet parts, etc. I realize that it’s a mid-grade book, and the level of development for most of these things is probably spot-on for that level. But as an adult reader, it wasn’t entirely satisfying.
I actually found myself put in mind of some of Ray Bradbury’s work, particularly The Halloween Tree. The Holiday House does pretty effectively capture the childhood nostalgia with the tinge of creepiness that Bradbury’s so good at. But Bradbury’s more subtle with his scares, they’re more psychological than visceral, so the comparison between the two was not always in The Thief of Always‘s favor. Barker is a good writer, though, no doubt – even at the lower age level he’s got some finely crafted turns of phrase. And there’s obviously plenty of imagination there. I just found myself wanting to go a little deeper than the story would allow. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If you’d handed this to me around the time that I first discovered Bradbury as a kid, I would have eaten it up. (Conversely, if you know a kid who liked this book, give ’em some Bradbury… maybe Something Wicked This Way Comes.) As an adult reader, it was a fun and unchallenging way to pass a few hours, although I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been skewed somewhat older.
First Line: The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.
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