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May 28, 2008

Lost Boys - James Miller

Lost Boys (UK / US) is the debut novel by James Miller, published by Little Brown. It's being marketed as a mainstream novel, but the Little Brown people obviously think it has borderline SFF elements that may appeal to Science Fiction and Fantasy fans.

The novel follows the story of Arthur Dashwood, who works for an oil company. Arthur spends time in Saudi Arabia and also time in Baghdad as part of his job, where he suffers a kidnap ordeal. The plot begins with Arthur back in London and suffering a well-off London lifestyle, with au-pair and kids in a private school and a wife drifting away from him. Then children at the school begin to disappear. The novel's point of view switches over the course from Arthur's point of view, to his son Timothy Dashwood, to a private detective and back to Arthur.

The writing is lovely, very evocative and instantly conveying the emotion of the characters. For the first half of the book I enjoyed it as much for the language as the plot, with passages that were really lovely to read. Maybe that's a sign that I need to read more "literary" books?!  However the novel also suffers from my stereotypical view of literary books, that it fails to deliver on the plot front. The novel is essentially about how families react to an event, the missing boys, and although there are many allusions and a few scenes to elaborate, for me, it doesn't go far enough. For example, the Peter Pan comparison is there from the start: the title, the missing boys, the police inspector with only one hand; but nothing more is made of that, it's just a clever joke.

So, by the last three quarters of the book the language was not enough to keep me entertained and I was getting itchy for some resolution, which I could feel drifting away. And I was right, I didn't feel any resolution by the end of the book, it was as if the author threw up loads of ideas and it was my job to make sense of them. I'm not averse to unexplained elements in stories, and it's not really the unknown which irritated me, more the lack of depth and follow up. There was a great central concept but I didn't feel satisfied that the novel made the most of it. The novel's end itself irritated me immensley, it was perhaps trying to be shocking, I found it lazy, as if the book had painted itself into a corner and couldn't imagine where to go next.

Is it Science Fiction? No. Is it Fantasy? Undoubtedly. Will it be a mainstream success? Probably. For mainstream readers unused to fantastical elements, the off-kilter world may provide enough of a shock to satisfy. But for me, it was too shallow.

James Miller is obviously talented when it comes to language, and has interesting ideas, but as a novel it failed to deliver to the expectations it promised me.

1 Comment

I must admit that I liked the ending. It wasn't a neat, conclusive or massively revelatory but I think it would make a more mainstream reader unconfortable and push a few buttons and as such it fitted into the rest of the novel.