In Sendak’s classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are, Max’s famous threat to his mother, ‘I’ll eat you up!’ is not to be. The Wild Things he finds are tamed as he stares unblinkingly into their eyes and his mother survives too. Max has the satisfying consolation of discovering that his rage and aggression will not cause irrevocable damage.
In Melvin Burgess’s latest novel for teenagers, Bloodtide*, which is full of Very Wild Things, there is no such benign resolution. In this dystopian tale, King Val, ruler of half of London, carelessly delivers his daughter, Signy, and her three brothers to the less than tender mercies of their traditional enemy, Conor. In a gruesome scene, the boys are tethered and left to be devoured by a creature who is half pig, half man. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Signy is literally hamstrung by Conor to whom she has been given in a marriage as part of a now betrayed treaty. King Val has already been murdered. Conor then retreats further into his paranoid world which is to end when the one brother who has survived the chompings of the bumbling pigman eventually appears to exact his revenge.
Burgess tells us that this novel is based on the Volsunga Saga , and from this via Macbeth to The Godfather , the sadistic need to consume the totality of existence in an attempt to ward off the terror of possible personal dissolution has found many powerful literary expressions. Now we have Bloodtide, a meaty (as you see, it is hard to forget the pig scene) read indeed and one in which sexual ambiguities and betrayals also abound, quite apart from the under-age sex which does not seem to concern King Val.
Is Bloodtide then for teenagers? While there is no looking Burgess’s Wild Things in the eye, the insatiable tyranny and gross appetites of this powerful mythic tale convey an implicit challenge which teenage readers will respond to – learn to restrain your appetites or, like Conor who would be King, you will consume your own kind.
*Bloodtide is published by Andersen Press (0 86264 833 5) at £14.99 in October 1999.