Arabat: Absolute Midnight. Book Review


Harper Voyager, p/b, £8.99

Reviewed by Stewart Horn

There is a world parallel to this but accessible by magic. It is the Abarat, an archipelago in which there is one island for each hour of the day, and one spare. It’s a typically Barkeresque idea – original, intriguing and a little bit nuts. His characters are huge archetypes: gods and heroes and tragic villains whose names reflect their personalities and their roles within the action. If I tell you that the main protagonist is a farm girl called Candy Quackenbush, and her nemesis is Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight, you’ll get the idea – nothing is small here.

It’s all kind of an excuse for Barker to spend some time on every island, imagining what noon really means, or how it would feel to live in a place where the sun is always just about to rise and never does, and what people and creatures each of these hours would bring into being in a land where magic makes everything possible.

If it sounds absurd, it is, and in the hands of a lesser writer this could be the dullest of self-indulgent drivel. But Barker is a prose stylist of the highest order who can make you believe anything. Even in a children’s book, in which he can only use part of his usual toolbox, he engages and mesmerizes and keeps you turning the pages, desperate for the next wonder, the next monstrosity.

This is the third volume the Abarat series, and the darkest so far, with seriously grisly goings on, lots of nasty deaths and scary monsters and a plan to destroy the Abarat completely and make it permanently midnight everywhere. The plotting is so audacious, the story so grand, that we forget all about logic and reality and go along for the ride.

Sometimes we get a little sidetracked by Barker’s imagination – there is a lot more stuff here than is really necessary to the story, but that fecundity of invention part of the joy of reading Barker. If you want a fast-paced all action story go and buy an Alex Rider novel. That’s not what Barker is aiming at. This is an experience: a beautiful, sensual multi-media thrill-ride – not a roller-coaster so much as a thousand mile train journey through the imagination of one of the world’s greatest living fantasists.

If you want something more special you should pay the extra for the hardback, which has all Barker’s illustrations. It will take you twice as long to read but you’ll get a whole different perspective on the story.