Fiction Reviews


(2013) Melvin Burgess, Hammer, £9.99, hrdbk, 293pp, ISBN 978-099-57644-8


Hammer is back. Not only as a film studio, bringing out new films such as Wake Wood and The Tenant and the highly successful The Woman in Black but also as a book publisher, with an almost multiple-personality feel to its schedule given that books are appearing with familiar Hammer film titles such as Twins of Evil, Vampire Circus, and Hands of the Ripper penned by familiar genre writers like Mark Morris and Guy Adams and Shaun Hutson among others; while they are also publishing a whole lot of the back catalogue of Graham Masterton; and some original titles by writers not normally associated with the horror genre such as Helen Dunmore (The Greatcoat) and Jeanette Winterson (The Daylight Gate), and Julie Myerson (The Quickening) but one of the first was Hunger by award-winning writer, Melvin Burgess, known in some circles as the 'Godfather' of YA (young adult) fiction, although given the controversy of several of his books (right from the start of his career) I am sure he has garnered a few other names over the years, not all of them complimentary.

If you are familiar with the work of Burgess you will know that he writes with an unflinching eye about some of the troubles that young people encounter, whether they are drugs (see his landmark novel Junk for example) or sexuality (Doing It and Lady: My Life As A Bitch), and he brings that same gritty realism to some parts of Hunger which tells the story of student Beth who wakes up in bed one morning covered in bruises and dirt with no memory of how she got into such a state. The only thing she knows is that she is really, really hungry. To make matters worse, someone has been desecrating local graves, and soon her eyes are opened to a supernatural world existing beside ours, and even worse the creatures within it - demons, vampires, and ghouls want to get their claws and talons on her all because of her family background, and something that happened to her as a child, although she has no recollection of this, but she has been seeing a therapist, who has suddenly, mysteriously disappeared.

With obvious echoes of Buffy – the whole student thing, the supernatural entities and the formation of their own 'Scooby Gang', and a few nods to Dracula, Hunger is a good, solid novel, though a bit light on characterisation and with some plot holes that its best not to think about too much and spoil the fun to be had within the pages - you can pick the plot to pieces afterwards. Although, annoyingly, there are some scenes and events that happen off page and are given mere lip-service – talk about being less than a shreddie, for some characters we are only told about their demise second hand. If you are a Burgess fan, or even a Hammer fan you’ll probably want to read this and it certainly delivers on the 3G scale – grim and gritty and gory, but strangely (or not, given his pedigree) it is the domestic nature of the plot – Beth’s student lifestyle and the interaction between her and some of the male characters, like her brother, Louis, or the lecherous Ivan, which ring truer rather than the supernatural shenanigans which appear under-developed and not particularly original. All in all, I would say this is a 3 out of 5 job, better than average, but only just, which is probably true of a lot of late 1960s/early 1970s Hammer films.

Ian Hunter

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