The Gates

Just in time for Halloween, I reviewed John Connolly’s YA book The Gates for Reviewing the Evidence. It’s a breezy, fun book (also marketed as a crossover for adult readers, too) that reads much like a Douglas Adams novel. I can also easily imagine this story translating well into a movie.

You can read the review on RTE’s website, here, or see the full text below.

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When eleven year old Samuel Johnson knocks on the door of 666 Crowley Avenue three days before Halloween, his plan is simply to “get a head start on everyone else” and walk away with a few extra chocolate bars. Instead, he and his unusually clever dachshund Boswell have the unfortunate luck to observe his neighbor, Mrs. Abernathy, as she inadvertently opens a portal to Hell and becomes possessed by a demon in the service of The Great Malevolence—that’s Satan, to you and me. So begins The Gates, a young adult “crossover” novel by Irish author John Connolly (whose previous novels include the Charlie Parker police thrillers).

The Gates strikes a distinctly farcical tone throughout, making a comic romp of Samuel’s encounters with a whole cast of menacing beings such as Ba’al, Satan’s most trusted lieutenant, a hapless monster who shows up under Samuel’s bed with instructions to “drag [him] to the depths of Hell,” a demon named Nurd, “The Scourge of Five Deities,” and the well-meaning, but ultimately ineffectual scientists who helped to bring about Hell on Earth in the first place (turns out, Mrs. Abernathy was only able to open the portal because her amateur ritual coincided with the malfunction of the Large Hadron Collider).

Connolly’s deadpan, absurdist narration immediately calls to mind the ironical prose of Douglas Adams. And for the most part, he maintains a balance between more subtle (adult) humor and a bawdy cache of adolescent-friendly jokes. For instance, the reader is introduced to a cast of minor demons, including “Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation.” Further on, a pair of rural British policeman react to the impending end of the world by blandly remarking that they are going to “put a stop to it,” which, Connolly quips, is “the kind of assurance that had kept the British empire running for a lot longer than it probably should have.”

It does seem to take Connolly some time to effectively master the book’s tone. As the novel opens, the constant jokey asides and footnotes that are inserted every few pages feel a little forced, and are frankly a bit overwhelming. Having plunged his reader into a convoluted and fantastical plot line, Connolly frequently pauses to digress on such varied pedagogical rants as discussions of Lewis Carroll’s mathematic theorems, St. Thomas Aquinas’ musing on “how many angels fit on the head of a pin?,” and even a brief explanation of Quantum theory. While these notes certainly prove Connolly’s respect for his young audience, however, they may prove a bit trying for the average reader. (Luckily, they are almost entirely dispensed with in the second half of the book.)

Whimsical, funny, and just in time for early tricks or treats, The Gates will bring a little humor to an otherwise macabre holiday season.