Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Little People: review

The Little People by John Christopher: my book review


This isn't a real book review because I don't want to, and I'm not forced to, write very much on the subject.  So in brief:


The cover of this book was very misleading.  Instead of an over-the-top horror romp in a castle infested with whip-cracking Nazi leprechauns, it was a well-paced, psychologically rich character drama involving Nazi leprechauns who, it's mentioned in passing, might occasionally crack whips.


The set-up: It's Ireland in the 1960s. A young English woman inherits from an uncle an isolated Irish castle (not really a castle, she learns, but a large country house built on the remains of a castle).  She considers selling it, but opts instead to run it as a vacation spot for tourists—a bed and breakfast situated in the middle of a bog.  She and her fiancé check the place out and are amused at all the little dollhouses her uncle built in his tower workshop before he died. How cute!


After running a few ads for the vacation spot, she gets some takers: A bickering American couple and their teenaged daughter, and a German couple troubled by the (figurative) ghosts of post-war German grief and guilt.  They join a young alcoholic Irish lawyer who's been staying at the house helping the Englishwoman get the place up and running, and the Englishwoman's fiancé, who is a London attorney trying to keep a lid on his own superiority complex.


Yes, it does sound like a lot of clichés, but the author starts chiseling away at the archetypes, giving them believable backgrounds and reforming them around the details of their existence.  In fact, you could edit out the whole "little people" element and still have a decent book.  They do, however, lend the novel an extra bit of depth as well as mystery (I wouldn't call it horror, exactly; I was never horrified, even when the lights went out and there was an imminent threat of whipping).


I also found myself frequently delighted by Christopher's descriptions and choice of words.  The biggest problems I found were in some of the character reactions later in the book; I'm not sure that some of the choices were entirely credible, but they weren't outlandish.  Also, what in 1966 might have passed as a novel premise in fantastic-horror stories now comes across as a little quaint, but like I said, the fantastic-horror element is only part of the draw.


This would make an excellent book club discussion book. I'm not joking!  I can easily see hours of debate about character motivations, relationship development, and other storytelling choices.


And it's a slim book and a fast read, so if you want to borrow it, I'll let you, sure.


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