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Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconin

 Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconin

Ricky Darlin is relieved when he wakes from a nightmare in which he’s trapped on an island. Only, upon waking he’s confronted with something worse: a version of Peter Pan who speaks in a horribly rendered Australian accent that makes him sound as though he’s been taking voice coaching lessons from Crocodile Dundee and a Cockney cab driver.

“Neva mind,” says Peter. “Listen, mate…ya say ya stressed out, right’? Well, I just happen to know the perfect way to relieve stress…I can show ya the Island. I can take you there. Ya were just thinkin’ ’bout runnin’ away, weren’t ya?”

Ricky nods, and I don’t blame him: I’d be quite desperate to get away from this dialectic travesty as well. But anyway, after a bunch of rude jokes, Peter and Ricky are on their way off to this sanctified island Peter speaks so highly of. But it’s not long before Ricky’s wishing he could pinch himself to wake up, or perhaps tap his Dorothy slippers together and return back home to Kansas, because this island is not exactly a refuge.

In this angsty, teenage twist on Peter Pan, Peter’s a kidnapping sadist with a penchant for four-letter words, the Lost Boys and Girls are shuffling zombies, Wendy’s not a type of mother figure but rather a sharp-tongued sword-fighter called Oscar, and Hook’s a crocodile-scarred youth with a bit of an Oedipus complex. Once transported to the Island, Ricky’s desperate to get away, and together with Oscar, Hook(e), and a couple of other youths, he begins to put together a plan to bring Peter down.

The concept’s a solid one, but the execution is weak, with a narrative that limps along largely on the back of a bunch of “your mum” jokes, homoerotic/homophobic quips, and misogynistic “don’t be a pussy” references. When Ricky find himself on the island, his first thought is “You want a sword shoved inside you? Your mum wants a sword shoved inside her…If I was still chipper enough to make a ‘your mum’ joke, I knew I could do it.” Though I do find this material utterly offensive, I can better handle it if it’s relevant to the plot or to the characters, or is integrated in some way.

Instead, these jokes just sit heavily on the top of the narrative like oil on the surface of a body of water. It becomes difficult to differentiate between the male characters because they’re so very similar in terms of voice and they’re not developed much beyond this endlessly jeering repartee, and even at the end of the book I had to keep checking back to check that I had the characters straight in my head. Even Ricky’s much the same as the other male characters, and the invariably sarcastic tone of Ricky’s first person narration makes him difficult to connect with.

Admittedly, the author does strive to add a little depth to Ricky’s character by interspersing into the narrative a handful of scenes in which he is sent to see a counsellor, but these too devolve into rude, zingy rejoinders, and once we’ve got to the bottom of Ricky’s angst–”they didn’t have to get a divorce!” he shrieks, sounding a good deal younger than the sixteen-year-old he’s meant to be–these scenes dry up, and we’re back to the island full-time. As a result, the structure of the book feels unbalanced, with these scenes feeling as though they were added as an afterthought to give us an insight into Ricky that is not otherwise afforded by the narrative.

The two female characters on the island (the only other female characters in the book are Ricky’s teacher and counsellor) sort of fade in and out of the narrative. Wendy/Oscar is given the most page time but, frustratingly, is given an attempted-rape-as-impetus-for-revenge background that is sadly all too common in fantasy literature; TigerLily, on the other hand, offers a kind of inoffensive nothingness.

I’m afraid that this one didn’t work for me at all, and though I liked the concept, I really struggled to connect in any meaningful way with the characters or the narrative. I found the prose dull, the dialectal dialogue off the mark, the plot–in particular the ending–hastily executed and simplistic, and the characters tedious, and the constant sexual innuendos tiresome.

Rating: star Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconinhalfstar Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconinblankstar Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconinblankstar Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconinblankstar Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconin

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6 comments

  1. You know, sometimes a negative review makes me want to read a book. In this case, no. I don’t see anything that interests me about the book. What a pity!

    • Stephanie /

      I know what you mean, Judith–books are so about taste, after all. But, honestly, while this one has a great concept, it’s just not *there* yet. I might be being cynical here, but the author blurb lists his birthdate (1989) and that he was in uni when he wrote this novel…I can’t help but wonder whether this book was picked up because the author was young, or that this was supposed to be a selling point for the book. However, once a book is out there in the wild, it’s competing with all the books by everyone else, not just with young authors. No matter how important platform seems to be these days, an author and their books are still vastly separate things!

  2. Constant sexual innuendos are often tedious, but those made by immature 16 year old boys, more so. I think I’ll skip this one, doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

    • Stephanie /

      I’m not prudish by any means, and I’m happy to chortle along at a rude joke, but these were just so misogynistic and incessant. Perhaps if there was some variety in the humour then I might have been a little more okay with it, but honestly, I can only take so many blowjob jokes or homophobic cracks. I’m definitely not the audience for this one!

  3. Pass! That quote annoyed me, I can’t imagine a whole book filled with language like that. Why is Peter Australian, by the way?

    • Stephanie /

      I know what you mean–and it’s never ending! I have no idea why Peter’s Australian, to be honest. Perhaps because he’s meant to be a bad boy, and we’re all convicts?

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