Friday, 28 January 2011
‘The Enemy’ – Charlie Higson (Puffin)
Charlie Higson’s ‘The Enemy’, I have to say, is not one of those books.
I actually came to read ‘The Enemy’ as a direct result of picking up its sequel, ‘The Dead’, over Christmas and swiftly coming to realise that I had a ‘surprise read’ on my hands. As you know, I don’t generally tend to read ‘Young Adult’ books (nothing against them as such, there’s just a whole load of adult books that I want to read first) but I gave ‘The Dead’ a go and am very glad that I did. More on that when I review it in the next week or so. I didn’t hang around after finishing it and went straight out to find a copy of ‘The Enemy’. Perhaps I should have reviewed these books in the order that I read them but ‘The Enemy’ kicks things off so it seemed like the logical place to start...
No-one knows how it all began but that’s not the point anymore; no-one under the age of fourteen is safe anymore... All the adults got sick and some of them died but the ones that are left... they’re hungry and they’re coming for the children that are left on the streets.
Children hole up all over London in locations with varying degrees of safety but the end looks inevitable. That is until rumours appear of a place that is not only safe but offers children the chance to begin an entirely new life. One gang of children are about to start searching for this safe house; all they have to do is find their way across a London where even the most innocent looking doorway could prove to be a trap. And don’t even think about taking the underground...
I haven’t been entirely truthful here. The other reason that I don’t generally feature YA fiction here these days is that, well... I’m an adult but I’m not the kind of ‘Young Adult’ that this book is aimed at. How to approach a book like this then? Wouldn’t it be unfair to judge a YA book through adult eyes? The solution wasn’t hard to come by but a little difficult to implement so you’ll have to bear with me here.
Yes, the solution was to invite another reviewer onto the blog and let them say their piece about ‘The Enemy’. That reviewer was still me though; it’s just that I decided to see what I would have got out of this reading experience as a ten year old boy as well as what I got out of reading it now (I would have read this as a ten year old although it’s probably aimed at boys who are slightly older).
Not being the overly critical type (far preferring a hefty dose of action and gore), my ten year old self loved reading ‘The Enemy’, a fast moving book that’s punctuated liberally with shocks and gore. There’s always something happening and the pages are very easy to keep turning as a result. The whole ‘kids vs. adults’ thing has been done in a number of places before but there’s a very good reason for that (what child isn’t going to want to read a book where the grownups get their *cough* handed to them?) and Higson uses this approach to good affect, upping the stakes with the mindless acts of violence that the adults are capable of. Being a child is no protection here and Higson makes that abundantly clear with several graphic scenes of violence that my ten year old self loved but also more than justified the warning on the back of the book. In short, an unqualified success and a great way to keep my inner child happy.
As a thirty five year old reader though? I’m not so sure...
I can’t deny that all the cool stuff I would have enjoyed as a child still appeals to me these days and ‘The Enemy’ very much delivers, on that front, for all the reasons I’ve laid out (although I’m on the other side of the whole ‘children/adult’ divide now and would want that side to win!) This was very much a ‘polish off in one sitting’ kind of book.
What I found though is that the frantic pace of ‘The Enemy’ has the unfortunate affect of making it a book where style wins out at the expense of substance. You can’t blame the book for that as the demands of the plot pretty much demand that sacrifices are made to keep things powering forwards. It was annoying though to see character development pushed to one side in favour of sound bites that are used to distinguish one character from another; the children ended up merging into one ‘uber child’ after a while... The concerns that the children did have didn’t strike a chord with me at all but then, to be fair, they wouldn’t do would they?
Without wanting to give too much away about the plot, there were also moments that had me scratching my head and thinking ‘this doesn’t gel with what’s going on in the rest of the book...’ There’s at least one more book to come after ‘The Dead’ though so maybe things will make more sense then (they didn’t now though...)
I can see ‘The Enemy’ really appealing to its target male audience who would get a lot of enjoyment out of it. For me these days? It’s a fun and light read for the commute lacking the substance to take it to another level.
For the record... My ten year old self wanted to give ‘The Enemy’ top marks but then he would :o) I’d personally score it at a six. The true score lies somewhere in between...