All Quiet on the Orient Express, by Magnus Mills

The never-named narrator of this book tells what happens when, at the end of the summer, he is the last person left at the campsite he's been staying at. He puts off his plans to leave when he's asked if he'd like a to paint a gate, in exchange for another week's free camping. But after finishing the gate, other jobs crop up.

This is a nice short book - Steve said I'd read it quickly and I think it only took two sittings. It very effectively conjurs up an atmosphere of menace, although it's not really clear exactly what might be wrong. For example, the writer is warned by various people he encounters that the campsite owner has a fearsome temper, so when he makes a mistake (such as spilling the paint for the gate) you're expecting a big row. But the temper doesn't actually manifest itself, and you're left wondering "what's going on then?"

Over time, the jobs that he's being asked to do become more peculiar (not wildly so, but just a bit odd), and it's not clear exactly why he seems so accepting of each new development. You think "surely he must cotton on that something's wrong here". Although nothing wrong actually happens, until - and I think this may have been the weak point of the book - someone gets killed. The death is treated in rather a matter-of-fact way which I don't think really can be justified.

After this, I felt we were veering dangerously towards the realms of magic realism, where all bets are off as to what might be expected to happen.

Having said that, following this incident, nothing else explicitly "weird" happened, so in a way that was quite effective, because it made you think "hang on, did that really happen?". In fact, I found myself wondering later whether I'd misinterpreted the episode, and questioning my understanding of the story.

So this was a good one: pleasantly and effectively unsettling. I think it might have been more effective without the death, but nevertheless I really enjoyed it.

Completed : 03-Mar-2013

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