9 Jan

If you’ve ever watched Edward Scissorhands you may have done so without realising that Tim Burton’s famous film is partly based upon an obscure Victorian nursery rhyme and urban legend – that of the Scissorman. The origin of this strange character is a matter of some dispute – some say that he is entirely fictitious, a nightmarish creature dreamt up by generations of parents to frighten their children into behaving themselves. To others there is no doubt that he is all too real and was in fact a serial killer in Victorian London (akin to other bogeymen like Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper and Springheel Jack). His trademark weapon was a massive pair of scissors that he used to stab and cut his unfortunate victims, usually following a sadistic game of hide-and-seek. Mark Chadbourn, a writer whose work I greatly admire, to some degree used both origin stories for the Scissorman in dreaming up his brilliant but twisted novel of the same name.

Scissorman tells the story of Jon Summers, who one day cracks under the strain of his job and lifestyle. His wife then arranges for him to rest at a Victorian house called Arcadia where he spent time as a child. When Jon arrives there he finds that the magic of Arcadia lives on but over the years has grown darker – largely as a result of the fact that a door has been opened to the Scissorman, a frightening figure from the stories that Jon was told as a child. I found the first few chapters of Scissorman fantastically scary and gripping but the more I read the more I realised that the book is so much more than just a horror story. Jon starts out as a ruthless foreign exchange dealer in the City – the type of character who would fit right into the cast of Boiler Room or Wall Street. This hard edged, soulless world of money making is contrasted with Jon’s recollections of a more innocent, enchanting time in his childhood. Although Jon initially finds himself drawn back to this idyllic world from the past, once he arrives there he realises that memory can be deceptive and that the lies that we believe as children can often conceal terrifying truths. One of the cleverest things about Chadbourn’s writing is that he expertly brings together an external supernatural threat in the form of the Scissorman and Jon’s descent into personal breakdown. The enigmatic figure of the Scissorman is something that we are never entirely sure about – is he paranormal, imaginary or frighteningly real?

If you’re new to Chadbourn’s writing then you’re in for a real treat. His prose is powerful and his plotting is constantly inventive and fiendishly unpredictable. You really feel that you’re safely in the hands of an author who knows (or has fully researched) everything that he mentions in the novel, from the descriptions of City life to the depiction of London and its suburbs. Chadbourn skillfully creates an air of almost unbearable tension from the very first lines of the novel and the atmosphere remains intense and brooding throughout. Although the emphasis shifts from outright shocks to character and action as the story moves on, as a reader you’re always kept gripped. The chilling climax is simultaneously profoundly disturbing as well as oddly satisfying. Even more than that, it acts as a prologue of sorts to Mark Chadbourn’s even greater achievement in the form of the New Dark Age series. More on that another time though…

10 Responses to “Scissorman”

  1. redplace January 9, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    I’m so excited by this. This was a pleasure to read and absolutely fascinating. I did not know that about Edward Scissorhands, and initially that drew me to read the rest, however I’m glad I read on! So insightful that now I feel I need to read more about the subject. Thank you for sharing :-]

    • anilbalan January 9, 2012 at 8:03 am #

      Thanks, I was really blown away by this book

  2. jaxpress January 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Thanks for this post, I loved the movie, so will definitely look for this.

  3. The Heretic January 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    I will have to check this out after I manage to make through the myriad of books that I have before me first.

  4. Just A Smidgen January 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    What an outstanding book review.. I’ll be looking at your others. This book does sound a bit too much on the “scary” side for me, though. I’d be unable to sleep at night (ok, I can’t sleep at night anyway! Lol). But I can’t wait to see your other reviews..

  5. Jen January 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    A completely different take on the same nursery rhyme appears in The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, one of the insane, hilarious and wonderful Nursery Cryme books. It describes the police investigation into the Great Long Red-legg’d Scissorman, who performs double thumbectomies on any children caught sucking their thumbs.

    Fforde takes his version from Der Struwwelpeter

  6. Chloe deGravelle January 10, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    How very intriguing! I look forward to reading this myself, now. Thank you for sharing!

  7. thingsghostlyandcurious January 28, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Well-written review. I’ll definitely be searching for this book now. Many thanks!

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