By Lee Battersby
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978 1 925081 34 3
If you like your stories dark around the edges, covered in cobwebs and with a few skeletons rattling their bones in the background, then Lee Battersby’s Magrit is the book for you. Just look at the cover! The random figures and images against the black background suddenly group into the shape of a skull. This is going to be one seriously spooky read.
Battersby is the author of has written several adult novels and short stories, and Magrit, a triumph of clever writing and imaginative storytelling, is his first book for younger readers. This deliciously dark, scary and thought-provoking thriller, could just be on course to join Coraline and the short stories of Chris Priestley as a classic of spooky modern YA fiction.
Like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Battersby’s spooky tale is one of those special stories that delights in the beauty of the macabre without ever spilling over the edge into unpleasantness. It’s a quick read, that is easily read in one session, but appreciative readers could well want to start reading again as soon as they come to the end. once they come to the end first time round.
Ten-year-old Magrit lives alone in an abandoned cemetery, though she doesn’t know how she came to make a home here amongst the tombstones and crypts. She is a resourceful child who knows how to make the most of her unusual situations. She scavenges through the full bin bags that people drop over the wall into the graveyard. Finding food isn’t a problem here amongst the ancient graves.
This small square of forgotten land is surrounded by tenements, and sometimes Magrit stares up at the lighted windows. But no one ever comes down into the graveyard to disturb her or to ask questions. And she never feels lonely because she has a friend and wise guardian called Master Puppet.
Magrit fashioned Master Puppet herself out of bones and other bits and pieces she found scattered around the cemetery. He lives up on the chapel roof and keeps an eye on Magrit. Master Puppet is no fool. He is not afraid to tell things as they are. He can be difficult, possessive, sarcastic and controlling. Master Puppet is not the easiest person to have as a friend, as Magrit discovers one day when something very odd happens in the cemetery.
Out of nowhere, along with the bags of rubbish, a baby is dropped into the graveyard. Master Puppet knows immediately what should be done. He thinks the baby should be left to die, because he can see trouble ahead if it is allowed to live.
But Magrit will hear none of this. She nurtures the baby and names him “Bugrat”. She feeds him worm paste and squashed tomatoes, and teaches him how to walk. But as he gets older, Bugrat develops ideas beyond the cemetery walls. Master Puppet was correct right at the beginning. There is big trouble ahead.
Magrit sits intriguingly on a fine line between horror story and modern fairy tale. It is a curious and creepy little book full of sadness, dark corners and suspense. Who exactly is Magrit and has Bugrat come into her life for a purpose? Events at the end of the story blow away the cobwebs and reveal the truth about Magrit.
This gothic gem will appeal to anyone who appreciates creepy little tales mixed with understanding, tight story-telling and heart.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com