‘Monsters’ – Emerald Fennell

Monsters

The first thing I have to wonder is how this passed me by when it was released in 2015.

The second thing I have to say is that this is a children’s book that will probably appeal just as much to adults.

Monsters…it’s an evocative title. When we’re told that this story focuses on two children you would never want to meet it seems they are the monsters referred to. Our female narrator has a morbid fascination with murders, and Miles is a sociopath whose macabre behaviour hints at something very odd going ¬†on under the surface. However, things are not quite as clear-cut as they seem – and thought they’re not particularly likeable characters, I came to feel something akin to sympathy for our narrator which made me rethink exactly who the monsters of the title were.

The two children meet when they both end up in the same seaside town for their summer holidays. Our narrator spends every summer in the hotel belonging to her aunt and abusive uncle, and Miles is on holiday with his overbearing mother (whose relationship with Miles appears to owe a lot to that of Norman Bates and his mother). When bodies start to appear in the otherwise quiet town, it seems a serial killer is at large and the two children are desperate to investigate further. It is inevitable that they will get themselves into trouble.

The cover drew me to this initially…and it sounded vaguely creepy, but in the style of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was certainly creepy, but nothing had prepared me for just how darkly humorous this was. This might not sit easily with some readers, as the humour to be found in a book about murder- where animals are injured and people are treated with casual indifference – is never going to appeal to everyone’s tastes. I have to admit that there were some scenes that had me laughing out loud: the demise of Fuka the cat, the ingenious way in which rival Mary is removed from the annual festival and the judgements on Mr Queen’s artwork to name but a few. Finding such humour in these circumstances might seem odd, but the two children were fascinating in their depiction.

While I was thoroughly enjoying this as I was reading, the ending took it into realms I really wasn’t expecting and which made it go from simply a good read to one that I will be urging people to try. The hypocrisy of our ‘polite society’ -which only comes to the fore with this shocking ending – really left me questioning just who the monsters were.