I read a review of Anne Fine‘s latest novel, The Devil Walks, in the Guardian by Mal Peet and picked it up last time I was in Blackwells. Young Adult literature has re-discovered and invigorated the genre with authors such as Marcus Sedgwick, Michelle Zink and Neil Gaiman amongst others using it to build the atmosphere through out the book. I am reminded of Jose Monleon’s theory of the fantastic as a safety valve, allowing safe place for the exploration of the darker aspects of the Enlightenment.
So what is Fine exploring in the Devil Walks? It would appear to be familial relationship with orphans and step-families. When Daniel’s mother is taken to the asylum, he is cared for by Doctor Marlow and his family. His only possession from his previous life is a Dolls House which resembles a fine house. He and Sophie, one of the Doctor’s daughters, begin playing with it, exploring it and find a strange Janus like doll which can be either adult or child.
The Doctor tracks down the owner of the house who is Daniel’s uncle, Severin, who invites him to live at the house. Leaving for the house, he sees his uncle’s split personality and begins to make friends with the elderly servants, Martha and Thomas. Both knew Daniel’s mother as a child and see him beginning to explore the same area that his mother did.
Through his sneaking, he discovers that his uncle has made arrangements for the Dolls House to be brought to its larger version so that he can complete the voodoo based ritual started as a child. His greed and lust for the fine things in life means that he created a voodoo to harness his darker side whilst he killed his step family. Daniel is the last offering to Devil that he needs to make.
In contrast to the other books that I’ve read which concern dolls, such as Jeremy de Quidt’s The Toymaker (earlier review), the doll represents Severin’s inner life. Rather than being the unwitting toy, Severin is the puppet master and makes his own choices. Fine’s damnation of the greedy is perhaps a reflection on the excesses of recent times and its lack of compassion in society.
Fine avoids the easy option of Daniel coming back to Sophie but she lays in the expectation that he will go back to her. Whilst the Marlow’s may not have everything, they are close. Daniel begins to dig into his own history and discovers happier times before the doll exerted its hideous pall over those closest to it.
The Devil Walk is a great read which reflects the moth-eaten grandeur of the Gothic, Describing the work of Peter Straub, Stephen King once described it as being like very loud machinery. Fine pulls off the same trick in this book; it is certainly one that could conceivably become a modern classic.