The Electric by Andrew David Barker
A crumbling shrine to the art of film, the abandoned cinema lies empty in the outskirts of town.
Abandoned, but not deserted…
For The Electric is a cinema like no other. The spirits of Hollywood’s greatest stars enjoy their final turn on celluloid, watched eagerly by an audience of ghosts. When Sam Crowhurst stumbles across this terrible and beautiful secret, his life will be irrevocably changed. As the friendly and the dangerous among the dead gather around him, the last days of summer will see him discovering more about life – and the afterlife – than he ever expected.
You probably wouldn’t suspect it to look at me, but I’m actually a raging, unabashed sentimentalist at heart. If you walked passed me in the street the perma-scowl on my hairy Neanderthal-esque face would give you absolutely no inkling of the huge, soft pussycat of a man that hides within. Why the self-deprecating admission to begin this review? A couple of reasons really. Firstly, to confirm that looks can be deceptive, and secondly, and probably more importantly in this case, that my sentimental nature makes me the perfect audience for the debut novel from Andrew David Barker.
Things get off to a suitably creepy, yet subtle, start. Within just a handful of sentences I realised that The Electric was going to be something a bit special.
…the evening I discovered the Electric, I was alone, and that old abandoned building seemed to know it.
The plot follows a teenager called Sam Crowhurst as he travels that difficult road between the child he is and the man that he is destined to be. Sam acts as the narrator of his own story as he recalls the events of his fifteenth year. He is on the cusp of adulthood and the narrative explores the emotions and chaos that rule that often turbulent time in anyone’s life. Though young Sam has experienced his fair share of loss and this has left its mark. He hasn’t quite managed to come to terms with how he feels and that lack of resolution continues to hold sway. A chance encounter leads Sam to The Electric and inadvertently towards making peace with the ghost that haunts his life.
Barker has the most delicate of touches with his writing, especially when it comes to capturing those bittersweet, emotive moments. I don’t doubt for a second that many readers will be able to empathise with all of the themes that are touched up. Initially the spirits that haunt The Electric have an ephemeral quality and there is also a sense of sadness, of longing, that permeates their every action. As Sam and his friends learn more of the building’s colourful history the ghosts become more tangible and start to communicate.
I remember reading years ago, in Necroscope by Brian Lumley if memory serves, the idea that the dead continue to do whatever they did best while they were living – painters paint, sculptors sculpt etc. I’ve always relished that particular thought. There is a similar premise at work here. Those unfortunates who have passed over don’t let anything as trivial as death stop them from continuing to do what they love. The actors act, the directors direct and the writers can’t help but write. All those stars that have long since gone, or have died too young, still ply their trade in films created for a very specific audience. Any movie fan is going to get a kick out of the plethora of Hollywood references scattered throughout the narrative, everyone from Harold Lloyd to John Belushi and Humphrey Bogart get a mention.
The Electric manages to defy categorisation lying somewhere between horror, fantasy and modern day fairy-tale. Barker has crafted a wonderful story that picks apart the tragedy of loss and the slow process of acceptance. I was reminded of classic early fiction of Stephen King, there is definitely a similar tone to the likes of Stand by Me, or IT. Hauntingly nostalgic and beautifully evocative, the plot really plucks at the old heartstrings, but never in an overly schmaltzy saccharin sweet way
I’ll be honest, and you may have spotted this already, I could wax lyrical about The Electric all day. I love reading and I love cinema, finding a book that manages to encapsulate and merge together my two greatest passions is a genuine delight. I’m always pleased when fiction ignites that kind of fire in my belly. Deep down inside, in the dark recesses of my psyche, it feels as though The Electric has been written just for me and no-one else. It’s that rarest of beasts, a blissful treat that I know I am going to revisit again and again. There is no better feeling when you connect with fiction on that near sub-atomic level. Put simply, I loved The Electric. This is without a doubt one of my favourite reads so far this year. I knew nothing about the book or the author before I started reading but decided to take a chance, and I’m so very glad that I did.
The Electric is published by Boo Books and is available now. More details can be found on the publisher’s website. Highly recommended.