Something wicked this way comes – book review (sort of)

I just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something wicked this way comes. This is my attempt at a review – attempt, because I am very confused about what I think about the book.

The story of the book is fairly simple, but is expanded by Bradbury’s style of writing – to which I shall return shortly, as it is what I am primarily confused about.

The book follows Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, two boys born one minute to and one minute past midnight on Halloween eve (symbolic names? Nooo – do you think?). Will is the light one, Jim the dark one – something Bradbury makes very clear. One night, they hear a sound and sneak out to see an ominous train arrive with a travelling carnival, complete with many creepy circus freaks. Soon, they discover that the carnival is more than it appears to be – for one thing, the carousel makes you older or younger by riding it. In the end, the boys square off against the circus freaks with the help of Will’s old librarian father.

As I said, the story in itself is fairly straightforwards. The writing, not soo much. The writing is never straightforward or to the point, instead wandering off in poetic metafors and lifewisdom. Take for instance this passage, from when the boys watch the train with the carnival on board:

The train curved away, gonging its undersea funeral bell, sunk, rusted, green-mossed, tolling, tolling. Then the engine whistle blew a great steam whiff and Will broke out in perls of ice.

Way late at night Will had heard – how often? – train whistles jetting steam along the rim of sleep, forlorn, alone and far, no matter how near they came. Sometimes he woke to find tears on his cheek, asked why, lay back, listened and thought, Yes! they make me cry, going east, going west, the trains so far gone in country deeps they drown in tides of sleep that escape the towns.

Those trains and their grieving sounds were lost forever between stations, not remembering where they had been, not guessing where they might go, exhaling their last pale breaths over the horizon, gone. So it was with all trains, ever.

Yet this train’s whistle!

The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it from other nights in slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold wind through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!

Tears jumped to Will’s eyes. He lurched. He knelt. He pretended to lace one shoe.

(Something wicked this way comes, chp. 12, pp. 46-47)

…and this is in no way a particularly longwinded example. Note that all this takes place in a short instant, and that the character in focus here – Will – is noted for his innocence, and probably wouldn’t think like this. Having action sequences done like this tends to take away the speed of the action.

On the other hand, there is a certain intensity to it, sort of like with slow motion. Each small thing that happens is focused on, and we are left gasping for air, as the suspense is held to the bursting point.

One thing is pacing, another is clarity. With such a longwinded text, it should be easy to follow the events of the text, always knowing what is going on – right?

Wrong. The text often hints, often covers things up in flowering phrases, often taking long detours away from the subject matter. All this frequently makes the text confusing, leaving you wondering what actually happened in the scene.

In some cases, this may actually be what the author wanted, however. Sometimes, it doesn’t promote a feeling of confusion, but a feeling of mystery. The book is a book of mysteries and larger-than-life children facing larger-than-life enemies. This mystery and significance of the book’s world is often linked tightly to the writing, which opens up for poetic interpretation. This is quite important: the book deals with things that cannot happen – yet I would claim it is not really a fantasy novel, making a new world based upon the old, but with new rules. Instead, it’s a symbolic text, turning the carnival into a symbol for things in human existence. The fact that we don’t quite understand what’s going on makes the supernatural more ominous, actually giving it an added importance.

The above is probably a bit confusing to read – like I said, I don’t quite understand what’s going on in the book. (Besides, I am a bit tired, which also affects my ability with words). So I’ll try to sum up, so that I have at least given a clear recomendation:

Reading this book, I was sometimes bored – but all the time, my interest in the tale drove me on. If you can stand, or even enjoy, the sometimes cryptic writing, the book is an interesting read which I at least have not regretted reading.

On the other hand: If you want something concrete and/or fast paced/action packed, this is not the book for you.


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