Reviewed by Adrian Fry

Trick or treat? The answer is 'both' in the case of Peter Tennant's extremely odd novella A Halloween Story. It's a ludic, allusive romp, taking in everything from Dickensian pastiche to post apocalyptic science fiction, gleefully cannibalising the whole sf and horror canon for quotes and jokes in an attempt to give Halloween a pantomimic entertainment all its own.

The story is, essentially, a pastiche of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It centres around Elohim Scragg, an early retired, unimaginative bachelor with a desiccated love of Christmas (derived from his belief that he is distantly related to Ebeneezer Scragg, who he believes to have been Dickens' model for Scrooge) and a pronounced dislike of Halloween. Scragg's pleasures are scant, small-scale and priggish. Small wonder that he's visited by the Spirits of Halloween Past, Present and Future - and a cast of monsters and madmen that read like a Who's What of horror -determined to show him the error of his ways by exposing him to a series of terrifying, gory, hilarious and sometimes affecting visions.

This is a book in which every name and number is an affectionately witty nod to some corner of genre fiction or another. Scragg's adventures among the Spirits read, for the most part, as though they formed part of a show performed by a bunch of imps set loose with the dressing up box of genre fiction. This is just the sort of fun the post modernists forgot to tell us about when they started riffing around with literature and Tennant never misses the opportunity for a joke, clever or corny. The style throughout is floridly Victorian, the content sometimes gorily modern, Tennant's tongue so firmly in his cheek it frequently poke through.

As in Dickens, there is also a sentimental strand running through the book and this didn't entirely work for me. There are some affecting scenes showing how the young Scragg came to turn away from his childish love of horror - particularly good is a scene in which the man beholds the boy he was watching clandestine late night horror movies with his ailing father - but Tennant has to work hard at equating a liking for imaginative fiction with moral characteristics such as love of mischief and the ability to take risks.

This reservation aside, if you've an interest in horror and an appetite for humour, I'd recommend this as a well written Halloween treat. If you've neither, watch out for the Spirits. . .


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