Breathtaking by Bill Hussey

November 24th, 2008

cliff1Joseph and I have agreed that we will rarely, if ever, write book reviews for Horror Reanimated. We’ll leave such back breaking labour to Mathew. From my point of view, the decision is because I would feel uncomfortable writing reviews of books whose authors I might meet up with at a convention or on a panel in the not too distant future. I’m just cowardly that way! That said, I have felt compelled to tap out a little piece about a book I have just finished. Put simply, it is possibly the best children’s ghost story I have ever read. Actually, let’s not be mealy-mouthed: it is one of the best children’s stories I have ever read full stop.


I’ve been reading quite a bit of YA (Young Adult) fiction over the past few months. I’ve gobbled down all of Darren Shan’s Demonata series (great fun and bloody scary in places - check out the family torture scene in Lord Loss. Reads like Saw for kids!); Anthony Horowitz’s Power of Five saga (Book One - Ravens Gate - reminded me a lot of that brilliant BBC Children’s TV series Century Falls crossed with Dennis Wheatley); Linda Buckley-Archer’s Gideon the Cutpurse and FE Higgins’ The Black Book of Secrets. All of these have shown the remarkable imagination and skill on display in modern children’s fiction. By far the best of the crop, however, has been Breathe: a ghost story by Cliff McNish.

Briefly, Breathe is about Jack, a young asthmatic boy grieving over the death of his father. Hoping to help her son come to terms with the loss, Jack’s mother moves them to an old house full of memories. Jack is what is known in the dark fiction trade as a touch-know: someone who can pick up on the vibrations of the past by touch. As Jack and his mother arrive at the house they are watched by the ghost children who have been trapped here for years. Soon Jack will encounter their captor - a tortured figure known only as the Ghost Mother.

This is creepy stuff. McNish has written one of the purest ghost stories I have ever read. In a sense, this is MR James for kids - spellbinding, ethereal, with a pitch-black tone. There really has been nothing like it for years. In those YA novels I mentioned earlier, the horror of demons and Lovecraftian gods is fantastical but, in a sense, tangible. What Jack encounters in Breathe is a menace made all the more frightening by the fact that it can’t really be seen or touched. Also impressive is the fact that, by turns, we find ourselves sympathising with, and then abhorring, the villain of the piece. One moment she is tugging at our heartstrings, the next we are terrified by her inhumanity. Such complex characterisation in a children’s book is a rare and wonderful thing.

I’m not going to say much more. I don’t want to spoil this for you. But, oh, the Ghost Mother’s kiss! And the horror of the Nightmare Passage! Breathe is not only a cracking story, with brilliantly inventive and realised fantasy concepts, but a book that has real heart. Buy it and enjoy. 

Entry Filed under: Book Reviews, Uncategorized

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thebonebreaker  |  November 24th, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Awesome ~ I will definitely add this one to my list of books to read!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • 2. billhussey  |  November 24th, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    No worries, Jason - and happy birthday!

  • 3. thebonebreaker  |  November 26th, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Bill :-)

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