This here review of Shiver the Whole Night Through is from Ian O’Doherty in the Irish Independent, the country’s biggest-sailing daily paper. And it’s a good ‘un: the famously hard-to-please Ian was, well, pleased.
(Declaration of interest: as a freelancer, the Indo is one of my various employers. No favours were asked or given, I assure you!)
There was a time when the trials and tribulations of adolescent life were merely seen as part of the occasionally painful process of growing up. The most exciting time of your life is also the most stressful and as the teenage suicide figures starkly demonstrate, killing yourself has somehow become an almost acceptable option for some members of a generation which seems depressingly incapable of processing disappointment.
So when we first meet 17-year-old Aidan Flood, standing atop a local bridge and preparing to hurl himself into the raging river below, we could easily have been meeting yet another teenage cliché.
Too bright for the suffocating constraints of small-town life, Flood is about to take his terminal step away from the bridge when a man walking his dog breaks his train of thought and, embarrassed, he steps down from the bridge and decides to postpone his own demise until another day. Flood’s close brush with being another statistic is placed in proper perspective the following morning when he learns of the mysterious death of a girl from his own town and, from that point, the reader is dragged into a compelling and sharply written Gothic love affair that manages to throw an intriguing light onto small-town Irish life and the nature of love, friendship and, crucially, trusting the people around you.
When the news emerges that 17-year-old Slaine McAuley has been found dead, having apparently killed herself in baffling circumstances, Flood finds himself drawn to the forbidding Shook Woods, a place of local lore and myth where her body was found. Filled with curiosity about the death of a girl he hardly knew, he is shocked one frosty night when, through the ice on his bedroom window, a mysterious force writes, ‘I didn’t kill myself’.
As our young hero recovers from the understandable shock of witnessing an apparently spectral force communicating with him through a window, McManus paints an increasingly intriguing picture of a young fella who is sufficiently self-aware to realise that either the dead girl really is reaching out to him, or he is simply losing his mind. Could these mysterious nocturnal missives simply be a sign of a teenage breakdown? After all, we soon learn of the traumatic and humiliating bullying he endured at the hands of the town moron and his anguish at how others simply joined in, leaving only his best friend standing by his side.
But when an extreme cold spell descends on the area – while the rest of the country remains untouched – and locals start to die in increasing numbers, it becomes clear that he is not going mad but has somehow become embroiled in a battle that stretches back to the famine times. As the newly dead Slaine becomes more accustomed to her state, she and the wary Flood begin a tentative teenage romance, full of anticipation and angst that is only made unusual by the fact that one of them is dead.
Did one of Slaine’s ancestors manage to summon an ancient Irish demon to help him during the worst of the famine? What are her motivations and why did she choose Flood, a boy she barely knew?
In the interests of transparency, it should be noted that McManus is a critic with the Irish Independent, but it’s not granting any workplace favours to state that this is one of the best Irish books of the year, regardless of the ‘young adult’ genre attached to it. It’s no surprise that it won a contract from a leading UK publisher in the genre.
The author wears his influences lightly, but even though they range from Stephen King to John Connolly, the voice of Aidan Flood, who emerges as a bright and decent kid whose self-esteem has been shredded by stupidity and malice, remains strong throughout.
As the dark and supernatural cold of the town worsens and Aidan and Slaine race against time to find a way to stop the malign influence from completely controlling the town, McManus touches on the nature of friendship and the social isolation that comes with being a victim of bullying, without ever turning Flood into a self-pitying stereotype.
McManus has written three previous novels, which were well-received. But Shiver The Whole Night Through announces an interesting new voice on the Irish literary landscape who has produced a novel which deserves to be read by every teenager this Christmas – and everyone who ever was one.