Mark Lawrence's Reviews > Half Sick Of Shadows

Half Sick Of Shadows by David  Logan
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Sep 04, 14

Read from April 17 to 24, 2012

Last year saw the launch of the Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now First Novel Award. More than 500 manuscripts came chasing the £20,000 prize for previously unpublished novelists, and ultimately it was split between two winners, Michael Logan and David Logan (no relation).

The winning novels, Apocalypse Cow and Half-Sick of Shadows are more different than chalk and cheese, which at least are both high in calcium. The competition’s requirements boil down to alternative, imaginative, weird – which is a broad remit.

In Apocalypse Cow Michael Logan gives us a fast-paced dark comedy stuffed with violence, sprinkled with sex, not unreminiscent of Tom Sharpe’s work. He includes witty lines and observations Pratchettesque in their pointiness. We’re served an homage to zombie apocalypse movies. The disparate gang of survivors in this case battling to survive the predations of zombie herds rather than zombie hordes. Zombie (well, infected) animals of all shapes and sizes attempt to first have sex with, and then devour, our heroes.

Now writing comedy is hard. First, you have to write well, then you have to be funny. One-liners are good, but you can’t build a novel from them. You have to make characters readers will care about, characters that live and grow. Fortunately, Michael Logan (a journalist by trade) has done a solid job of writing and an excellent job of being funny. Without the humour this could be a decent horror novel (providing you could take the zombie squirrels seriously). It’s a light and very entertaining read, failing only at the last hurdle when it seems to lose internal consistency and fall into a cartoonish finale. Frenchmen seemingly drawn from Monty Python sketches shepherd us toward a weak conclusion, saved to some degree by the very last chapter.

Half-Sick of Shadows is a very different beast. Where Logan M. gives us workman-like prose and a compelling plot, Logan D. gives sublime prose and a general absence of plot. David Logan writes magical lines, he works wonders with words, loops them around ideas and captures them whole for you. He also deploys the child’s-eye view to highly amusing effect with innocent interpretation and off-beat observation.

The first half of Half-Sick reads like literary fiction of high quality, calling to mind Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) though perhaps only because both are first person accounts starting with young boys growing in Irish poverty. There are hints of supernatural but through the eyes of a strange child one might imagine them to be unreliable narration, at least for the first half of the book.

At about the halfway point, strangeness sets in, credulity becomes strained, characters exaggerate into caricature and yet you can’t believe it isn’t by intent – the trust in Logan’s skill built up in the opening carries you forward. Strange is stacked on strange and things grow increasingly surreal. I can’t claim that I ‘got’ the ending. I’m not sure if there’s a concrete thing Logan intends for the reader to get, or if it’s an exercise in ambiguity and mystery. Either way, both Logans disappointed me with their endings after delighting me (in very different ways) with their starts and middles. In neither case though did I feel my reading time had been poorly spent. I can see why these books won and why the judges were unable to agree to select one above the other. Both probably had implacable champions around the judging table.

The TPABHABNFN Award’s first year has brought forth two diverse offerings, one entertaining and uproariously funny in places, the other intriguing, beautiful, and ultimately baffling. Both very worthy of your attention.

For me HSoS had higher highs and lower lows than its fellow TPABHABNFN Award winner and than most other books. If you have a literary bent and can enjoy each part of a book without flaws ruining the whole, then this is definitely worth a read. I've seen this called half a good book. I'd disagree and say it's half a brilliant book.

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Reading Progress

04/17/2012 "What an interesting title I thought. Unique? But no!
2010 - Erika Tracy Half-sick of Shadows
2011 - Alan Bradley I am Half Sick of Shadows
2012 - David Logan Half-sick of Shadows

Who'd've thunk it?"
04/19/2012 "What an interesting title I thought. Unique? But no!
2010 - Erika Tracy Half-sick of Shadows
2011 - Alan Bradley I am Half Sick of Shadows
2012 - David Logan Half-sick of Shadows

Who'd've thunk it?

Suckling on the teat of Mother Google I discover the title is a line from the Lady of Shalott (Alfred Lord Tennyson).

So far so interesting. Excellent prose, powerful & unusual."
04/21/2012 ""perhaps I should have dug the grave deeper to get all his legs in" - child's eye view of reburying a dog! I keep thinking 'Angela's Ashes' while reading this, though the resemblance is tenuous."
04/21/2012 ""A memory of light came through the window and painted silver abrasions across the glass.""
04/21/2012 "heh - that line I just quoted earned the book a sale to Mazarkis Williams!" 1 comment
04/22/2012 "pg172 - Did Logan intend for Alf to get the speed of light wrong and be told he was right? Typo? Time may tell." 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul I liked it but I didn't love it. It was close to being great and I think I judged it harder for that. Apocalypse Cow was just more fun I think


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