Follow Me Down
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Oxford seem delighted with their new title and its author: 'submitted for all major prizes', 'much prepublication excitement', 'high profile marketing campaign in US, following a hotly-contested auction'. They have even secured an imprimatur from Philip Pullman, who can be relied upon to eschew sensationalism: Julie Hearn is 'someone whose work I always read with pleasure'. So why all the fuss? Well, for once, here is a voice which is a genuine original. Follow Me Down is driven by an imagination which slides wildly from 18th to 21st century, from the fearful adventures of a bunch of Bartholomew Fair 'freaks' to three modern generations struggling to connect with each other. Mostly - but not always, just in case you think you've got a firm hold of the plot - our viewpoint is shared with Tom, an alert, sensitive 12-year-old who leaps over a literal and metaphorical gap in his grandmother's cellar into a desperate mission in a dangerous London underworld of 300 years ago. His comrades are the likes of Astra the Changeling Child, Angel the Gorilla Woman, Chang the Exotic and Malachi Twist, the Bendy Man. They are as engaging - even loveable - as their enemies are dangerous, for Tom and his friends are pitted against a gang led by Rafferty Spune, grave robber extraordinaire and provider of cadavers to the ruthless anatomist, Dr Jeremiah Flint. Back on Planet 2003, as it were, Tom's mother is as alive and vulnerable as Tom himself, recovering (or is she?) from a mastectomy and trying to heal a years-long rift with her own mother. Keeping a grip on the plot isn't easy, leaping back and forth across the gap in the cellar, racing about the dripping alleyways and confronting, with Tom, anything from his mother's 'false boob' dropping into the pot-pourri to the abuse of Astra by her 'gentlemen visitors'. Who the readers of this book will be isn't easy to decide either. If they are Tom's age, they'll need to be able indeed, for A-level students and adults could well be absorbed by the book too, if they relish a crazy fairground ride of a read; but then, critics have been wrong so often about what readers can manage, as Northern Lights has taught us. So here's a new, wild, free voice. Maybe it's not always entirely intelligible (or maybe I need to read the novel again after my BfK deadline), but no matter. Confusion is appropriate to this story, for it reflects young Tom's experiences. At the end, he knows, 'absolutely and for always, that anything is possible'. It won't hurt to try that on for size.