Phew, I’ve done some serious reading this week! Last night I started reading The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor and finished it just a few hours ago. It baffled and confused me, but also left me in awe at the clever plotting and the intricacies within the narrative. The Chalk Man was published on 11 January 2018 by Michael Joseph of Penguin Random House.
A little reminiscent of the gang from Stephen King’s It, a group of five children, including one pretty girl and the main male character being in love with her, hang out together in the woods, having typical pre-teen fun. Then, at the funfair in town, disaster strikes which triggers many events. In amongst this, one of the boys receives a box of chalk for his birthday and the gang start using these to send each other messages and arrange to meet up. These eventually get used against the gang and they stop using them for that purpose, but that doesn’t stop the chalk man from following every horrific event in the town with with stick men chalk drawings.
Told from the point of view of Ed/Eddie in the present day as a grown man and flashbacks to his childhood thirty years earlier, The Chalk Man delves into the crimes of the past, dredging up memories and facts which lead to the eventual discovery of what may have really happened that year. With shocking twists and dramatic plot changes and character revelations, C.J. Tudor certainly did not disappoint with this novel.
What I liked
This is a novel for the early millennial and late baby boomer generation; the ones who grew up without smartphones, actually riding bikes and playing in the woods without parents breathing down your neck and texting you every five minutes. Without focusing on the story, I loved that this book reflected my childhood, which helped me to connect with the characters and the settings.
I adored the story itself; it is intricate, detailed and very eerie. It really makes the reader question who they can trust and if they really know the people and friends that they grew up with. I also liked the way that everything ended up being connected with each of the main characters having played a significant part in all of it. The characters all had a purpose in The Chalk Man. My favourite character was Mr Halloran, because he could be so easily misjudged for his appearance, and yet he managed to defy many of these stereotypes for a large part of the novel.
I found all of the other characters to be questionable; Eddie is the creepiest of the bunch, which I didn’t realise for much of the narrative; Gav is a very typical, mostly innocent boy, but he definitely stirred a lot of the troublesome plot; Hoppo is a bit of a bland character, with his dog being his most interesting plot element until the end of the novel; Mickey was a reflection of his brother, wanting to suck all that he could from the gang’s tragedies; Nicky is cold-hearted and disconnects herself from everyone and everything and Chloe is an intriguing character but I didn’t fully understand her ending.
This is what made the narrative so good to read. I was constantly questioning who to trust, when I realised that it was easier not to trust or assume, but to allow the plot to unravel on its own. This book is eerie rather than thrilling; there aren’t many scenes in it which left me trembling, but the creepy sensations stuck in my head and will probably stay with me for a long time.
What I didn’t like
Honestly, I felt that the plot was quite difficult to follow. This is aimed at seasoned fans of horror and psychological thriller writers like Stephen King. I can understand people who gave low ratings to the book because of it appearing as though there was no plotline because it is so twisted at times, that it is difficult to see where it all fits together. As it is not told chronologically and the revelations in the present relate more to the past, it is easy to become confused and lose the plot. Although I managed to get through it with little problems, I could see how it might be off-putting, but this reflects the intended audience more than anything.
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed this novel thoroughly. C.J. Tudor writes expertly with clear influence from her favourite authors, while not just copying familiar tropes. I love the fact that the story was never fully wrapped up, with many conclusions being how Eddie himself decided to tie things together, while the reader doesn’t actually know what to believe, especially after his final character revelation. So, by the end, you’re never truly sure about the identity of the dangerous ‘chalk man’. I do believe that this book is definitely for those who regularly read and enjoy stories involving murder, psychological damage and childhood innocence mixed into all of it. I would recommend to seasoned horror and psychological thriller/drama fans.