The Magic Cottage by James Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I recently spent some time in hospital, and thought this work might make a good companion. From the blurb, it suggested a zippy, not thoroughly taxing read. Fair enough, I thought: I’ll zip through it while waiting for day surgery and that will be that. Popcorn consumed.
So somehow, it’s ten days later and I’ve only just finished it. And why? Because I kept feeling like I had to flog myself onwards toward a finish line that wasn’t really worth it when I got over it.
The novel, Herbert’s 12th, isn’t particularly bad – it’s readable, and there’s the bones of something decent there – but it never really rises above the stock, the pat. Herbert’s dead, so he probably won’t care, but potential readers might: there’s nothing thoroughly offputting about the novel, but taken together it all seems a bit like a crap pantomime – worth seeing through, but fairly forgettable as soon as you’ve done so.
Mike and Midge. Sounds a bit too pat to be real people, right? Well, Mike (a session muso) and Midge (an illustrator) are some Big Smoke-fleeing bods who are drawn to a cottage in the country that exerts some kind of pull over them. The home of a deceased faith healer, there’s Weird Things Afoot from the outset. Magic is the name of the game, and somehow, by the end, even that’s rendered pedestrian.
The problem with the book is that nothing in it is hugely believable. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a problem as it is a work of horror fantasy. But the problem is that nothing in here tweaks the raw nerve in quite the way the author believes it does. There’s a sort of idealised portrait of the musician’s life, of drugs, of sex, that makes me wonder if Herbert had ever actually boned anyone in his life. It’s all kind of writing without the ring of truth, though whether this is intentional I can’t tell. I mean, there’s a character whose demeanour is totally lampshaded by his name: Eldrich P. Mycroft. I know, right?
This was the first Herbert I’d read, so I didn’t know what to expect from it. From the reviews I’ve read since completing the book, it seems I can probably expect more from his other writings. Maybe I’ll give ’em a go but I have to be honest: this one hasn’t really fired me up to investigate further.