Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Navigating fantasy, crime, horror and mystery with a sureness of touch”

Thank you very much, Brendan Daly of Books Ireland magazine, for this articulate and expressive (not to mention positive) review of Shiver the Whole Night Through. I think Books Ireland might just be the most high-brow publication I’ve thus far been reviewed in…take that, Haruki Murakami.

The full article is below:

Shiver the Whole Night Through is a Young Adult (YA) novel narrated by 17-year-old Aidan Flood. Tall, skinny and pale, Aidan lives on a council estate in a small town in the west of Ireland and believes that his distinguishing trait is his anonymity (“I was only noticed when someone noticed they didn’t notice me.”). Taking refuge in books and music, Aidan feels estranged from his school, the majority of its students, his town and his life.

Central to Aidan’s disaffection is the beautiful Caitlin, whom he fell in love with during their five-month relationship. But on “Black Sunday” Caitlin cheated on Aidan and broke his heart. When the event triggers a bullying campaign against Aidan, his life begins to unravel.

The campaign quickly veers from the virtual (hateful emails, abusive pages on Facebook) to the physical (his head is pushed into a urinal, three of his teeth are knocked out), and Shiver vividly illustrates how the cumulative effect of these assaults encloses Aidan in a narrow, claustrophobic world, exacerbated by adolescent diffidence, from which he sees no escape.

The novel opens with Aidan on the cusp of suicide, standing on a high stone bridge on a November night, staring into a churning river. Aidan’s suicide attempt is interrupted, but the next morning he wakes to the news that Sláine McAuley, a girl from his town, is dead. As the town attributes her death to suicide, Aidan finds a message scrawled in ice on his bedroom window: “I didn’t kill myself”.

When Aidan sets out to find who killed Sláine, he stumbles on the supernatural. In the forest where her body was discovered, Aidan meets the ghost of Sláine, and from here Shiver deftly shuffles the cards of realism and fantasy. Exploring authority, redemption, and fate, Shiver evocatively trails Aidan along two unconventional tracks: a whodunit where Aidan enlists the help of the dead victim to solve the crime and a romance where Aidan falls for a dead girl.

Shiver compassionately examines the theme of teenage loneliness by contrasting Aidan’s alienation from his town and his peers with his sense of harmony in the forest where he meets and falls in love with Sláine. If the forest offers Aidan acceptance and freedom (“it almost felt like home”), in Sláine Aidan finds loyalty and understanding (“You’re just normal,” Sláine reassures him).

Similarly, while Aidan doesn’t – or can’t – talk to anyone in his town about being bullied, Sláine asks him about it almost immediately. Popular and good looking, Sláine was never the target of bullying but she regrets that she never intervened when she witnessed it happening in school.

Consequently, how bullies wield power – both in the everyday and the supernatural world – becomes a primary focus for Shiver, and the novel traces (with varying degrees of credibility) victims standing up to their tormentors.

Aidan and Sláine are endearing, richly-drawn characters who recognise that they need each other’s practical help as much as they offer foils to their respective isolation. McManus confidently subverts stereotypes by portraying Aidan as sensitive and considerate and Sláine as the more self-depreciating and physically skilled of the two, while the author charges their fledgling relationship with a genuine tenderness.

Shiver takes an unexpected twist when a series of characters are attacked in vicious individual incidents believed to be perpetrated by marauding wild dogs. The Gardai begin to suspect Aidan’s involvement when it emerges that he is the only link between the attacks: each of the victims had previously bullied Aidan. These attacks coincide with the deaths of townspeople from merciless sub-zero temperatures not seen since the Famine.

The introduction of the Famine backstory is significant: it differentiates Shiver from the tropes of its genre and situates the novel in a precise Irish locale. Aidan unearths evidence that Sláine’s ancestor, overwhelmed by the horrors of the Famine, repudiated God and learned to summon dark forces. Aidan’s investigation into Sláine’s death hinges on establishing which of today’s residents is using these invocations to employ the demonic spirits terrorising the town.

Shiver’s canvas shares some parallels – most obviously teenage love crossed with the supernatural – with the Twilight publishing juggernaut, but this doesn’t detract from the verve or momentum which animates McManus’s novel. Splattered with pop cultural references (from Sigur Ros to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Twilight itself), Shiver is adorned with colloquialisms (“coola-boola”, “shite-talking”, “ráiméis”) that underpin the book’s Irish setting.

Threaded through the spine of the novel is a droll humour. This stems as much from the familiar problems of parent-teenager communication (when Aidan’s mother encourages him to open up to her, Shiver comically juxtaposes what Aidan thinks with what he actually says) to the surreal (Aidan explains his late-night excursions to a friend by writing “I’ve been in a relationship with a dead girl for a few months. Seems to be going all right so far.”).

McManus is an established Irish journalist and Shiver is his fourth novel. Natural justice is a recurring strand in the author’s work, but that theme is refracted through a completely different lens here than it was, say, in Even Flow (2012). Although Shiver is McManus’s first foray into YA literature, the Daily Telegraph nominated it as one of the Best YA Books of 2014. Navigating fantasy, crime, horror and noir mystery with a sureness of touch, McManus leaves Shiver open-ended, suggesting that it just might be the opening salvo in a gripping series.