THE BAT is part of a string of stories told by the patrons of The Red Grouse Inn. I can see them there, sitting by the fire, a pint in their hands, spinning their yarns. I liked THE BAT, a coming-of-age story since it demonstrates that adult fiction does not have to pivot on adult protagonists. Instead, the friends enjoy Thomas’s tale, and the reader gets to listen in.
Actually, while this set-up frames the narrative, it also creates a bit of a distance. We know we are being told a tale; there is nothing of the immediacy popular with contemporary readers. It did make for a bit of a slow beginning, and while I enjoyed the idea, the frame went on for too long, which made me skip to get to the story itself.
Filled with everything a reader of bygone adventures might want to see—a stuffed bat, luscious schoolmistresses, rumours, fires and death—the tale has a deeper meaning.
THE BAT tells a tale about friendship, about growing up, but it also explores concepts like beliefs, religious fervour and asks questions about the truth. Which seems strangely appropriate for a world brimming with fake news and sensationalism. In doing so, THE BAT raises essential questions and demonstrates it’s not a tale about a golden childhood at all.
Garland uses some lovely prose, “Marianne Cole, lover of all things ghoulish” was one of my favourites. He paints a picture of a past that the more grizzled readers among us might well remember. A gentler past? Filled with its own questions and horrors, it did not feel that way at the time.
Anyway, this grizzled reader enjoyed being transported back. I would have liked this tale even more had it not been for the overload of telling and some odd formatting (e.g. the ellipses) I kept stumbling over.