John Llewellyn Probert
At Ease With the Dead
“The Brook” does not get off to a promising start. John Probert opens the story with the narrator informing the reader that he (narrator) will tell the reader something that happened back at school and then reassures the reader that this isn’t the standard boy-overcoming-adversity story and that instead the story is far weirder and that by telling the story the narrator will hopefully better be able to deal with what happened.
There may be a way to turn me off a story quicker than a narrator aware there is a real life reader, but I’m just not sure what it is at the moment. One paragraph into the story and I’m already wishing this was the story about a church and an island. The second paragraph opens with the following line. “Up to a certain point my childhood was entirely normal...” Oh, please.
My problem with the rest of the story is similar to my problem with the opening of the story: the narrator (and in turn John Probert) is trying to be far too self-aware and clever with description. Too precious.
Early on in life it had become plain to me that I was one of those individuals incapable of participating in team events in any way which could be considered useful. Seeing as the school prided itself on its (admittedly impressive) record or sporting achievements, it should come as no surprise that, in the pecking order that is life at such an educational establishment, I consequently found myself somewhere just below the boys who were unable to participate in Friday afternoon cadet military training on the grounds that their parents were conscientious objectors
The positive thing here is that the prose flows easily and that “The Brook” is a quick read. It has more of a feel for a YA story than not. This may appeal to a large number of readers, presumably younger readers who will identify with the teenaged narrator and his somewhat snarky narration. Of course, this easy style and YA-feel comes across a little out of placing following “The Church on the Island”, but as this is the second story I cannot say which story might be out of place in the anthology.
The story concerns itself with an odd incident with an English textbook, a Tennyson poem that isn’t, children getting sick, and a substitute teacher. It’s a weird story, and so much as I could get past the narration of the story, it isn’t bad, but any time the narration attempts to be teenaged-clever, Probert loses me again. As easy as “The Brook” reads it is a frustrating story. There is enough good stuff in the story to entertain and engage the reader, but I want to kick the narrator.