Aden Keenan is dead. And in a bath tub.
All other memories are lost to him, as are his clothes.
This is hardly an auspicious start to Aden’s adventure and it only gets worse as he leaves the dubious comfort of the bathroom to explore the house in which he finds himself. The walls are decorated with instruments of torture and the owners are grotesque, animalistic giants who happily fornicate under the kitchen table on which their offspring is busy eating his dinner. Surprisingly, these turn out to be the nicest people Aden encounters on his journey. Thus begin Aden’s travels through the intriguingly nasty land of ‘Nightfall’, a world populated by decidedly questionable characters such as the sociopathic ‘Julius, Duke of Nightfall’; ‘Tom’, the creator of dragons; and ‘Charm’, whose enticements might also be deadly.
At every turn, questions are being asked: Why does Aden’s grandfather “Herbert Keenan” feature so prominently in this world? Who is the mysterious and powerful ‘Muse’ and what does she have to do with Aden? And why is the world of Nightfall slowly being swallowed by an unstoppable wall called ‘The Forgetting’? This is one of those novels that is as much about books themselves as it is an adventure story.
Where ‘Inkheart’, ‘The Never-Ending Story’, and ‘The Eyre Affair’ are fantasies that explore the bibliophile’s dream: a chance to inhabit the world of a favourite book; ‘Nightfall’ is their ugly sister, a novel that places its central character in a book that few people might choose to read.
Indeed, there is almost no doubt that author Will Elliot intended this novel as a kind of grown-up’s Never-Ending Story (he even gives us his own version of “the Nothing”, here rendered as a slavering beast devouring everything in its path).
Elliot rose to prominence with the publication of ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ in 2006, which won a brace of Australian literary awards (Elliot lives in Brisbane, Queensland) and set him up as one to watch in the horror/fantasy genre.
Author Will Elliot
Somehow, Elliot weaves into this nightmare a genuinely touching story about the love between a boy and his grandfather. That this sits comfortably alongside scenes of cruelty and grotesquery is testament to Elliot’s powers as an author, as is his ability to make some of the more disturbing scenes undeniably funny.
At the same time, Aden’s knowledge that he is, in fact, dead, makes for a rather irritatingly passive central character. It is hard to invest in his story when he remains resolutely uninvested himself. The rest of the characters are so vile, either carelessly lethal, or perverse, that one struggles to care when their world is threatened with destruction.
That said, sometimes a novel is only properly enjoyed on reflection, and this is certainly true of ‘Nightfall’: it is only after reading the final page that one truly gets to appreciate the cleverness of the novel as a whole. If you took ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Never- Ending Story‘ and placed them in a blender, and then stuck your fingers in for good measure, you might end up with something like ‘Nightfall’.
This is certainly not a book for children or teens (unless you are happy for them to read about casual torture, brutal murders, and occasionally flamboyant coarse language) but if you like your fantasy dark, humourous, and lightly sprinkled with existential questioning, ‘Nightfall’ is well worth a look.
- Amelia Gledhill