The Awakening (2021) by Ian Skewis is a brilliant and terrifying novella (one of two parts) with a strong promise by the author to be fully developed into a much-needed full-length novel.
The setting of this frightening piece of fiction takes place in the perfect location: the west end of Glasgow. As the author explains, “It’s one of those tales where what you see isn’t really what you see.”
The gothic nature of the setting & the story also reveal how the Past haunts the Present, how the Past can become an ever fearful intrusion upon the Present.
Broken into seven beautifully well-crafted chapters, the reader is able to meet characters in passing without knowing it until later on in the story when they become major players in this horrifying tale, a literary method called Multiperspectivity (or polyperspectivity).
Multiperspectivity is when the writer presents the reader with multiple (as in the prefix “multi”) perspectives (as in “perspectivity”). This literary term, sometimes used in history lessons, provokes the reader to consider these co-existing narratives as subjective and interpretational rather than holding firm to one tightly closed objective narrative.
A few classic novels & writers to have used this ingenious technique are:
Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady (1748) by Samuel Richardson
The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins (considered among many literary scholars to be the first English detective story ever written, and it’s a multi-narrative story which makes it even more intriguing)
As I Lay Dying (1930) by William Faulkner, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction for A Fable (1954) & The Reivers (1962), and he also won the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature
The Satanic Verses (1988) by Salman Rushdie, who won the 1981 Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children (which was later deemed on two separate occasions, the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the Booker, to be the “best novel of all the winners”)
My Name is Red (1998) by Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature
This complex & thought-provoking characteristic of the multi-narrative challenges even the best of writers, but Ian Skewis makes it look easy as his remarkable and skillful writing weaves through & overlaps the multiple points-of-view into a seamless & captivating tale of terror.
Early on in the book, The Awakening, Kris is waiting for his friend Debbie in a traditional fish-and-chips restaurant on Byres Road in Glasgow when a man comes in and sits. Kris remarks to himself the familiarity of the stranger but thinks nothing more of it than a passing encounter with a neighbor.
“As he waits, he is distracted by a man who has come in, his breath a series of clouds that hang in the cold air for a moment before disappearing. He’s seen him here before and the man usually gives him a nod of acknowledgement as they are both regulars but this time he ignores him, which he thinks is either odd or rude or both. The waitress appears and she asks the man if he will have his usual, which Kris knows will be macaroni cheese and chips and a can of Fanta. Moments later, Debbie arrives, all flustered and unkempt, and Kris can’t help but to grin from ear to ear… Something is bothering him, still. And he senses that it isn’t just his father. As he’s leaving he spies a newspaper the man has left. The headline doesn’t help his mood” (pgs 8 & 12).
But the reader has seen this passing stranger with a newspaper before and the reader knows him as Andy and what’s going on in this character’s mind.
For several pages, the reader has followed Andy who is being haunted by something supernatural, dark, and mysterious in the corner of his room which won’t let him go from its grip of fear.
“He still can’t comprehend it. It exerts a presence that’s just wrong. As if it shatters all the laws of physics. It shouldn’t exist but there it is, always on the periphery. And always peripheral because he’s too frightened to look it in the face, if it had one. It demands complete reverence and the utmost obedience. It does this by its very existence, exerting a control that defies explanation. He can’t open the curtains to let the light in because it won’t let him. It, or his own fear, he’s no longer sure which… And there’s the rub. It’s a thing of no words and it barely moves from the corner and yet when he tries to go to the toilet or to even attempt some sleep he finds he can’t. It takes all his courage just to move” (p 6).
And it’s in this horrified state of mind we follow Andy out of his house and to Mario’s Plaice, a fish-and-chip restaurant, where he passes by Kris, who is waiting for his friend Debbie (but the reader doesn’t know this yet).
“Once he’s sat down he tries to find his voice, but it’s gone. The waitress doesn’t notice, however. ‘The usual?’ she asks, eyebrows raised in expectation with a smile. He nods. He notices the young man opposite, sitting with his chips and a cup of tea. Andy usually nods a hello but today, he feels he can’t. Especially as that thing is still here with him. It won’t leave him alone… He holds onto that relatively bright thought for the meantime and with a sigh he pulls out his newspaper… He sits there for a while, staring into space. The young man is now accompanied by a vivacious blonde who laughs loud enough to put his numerous fillings on edge. He decides to cut his losses, leaves some money on the table and heads back outside” (p 7).
In a way, heightening the social severity of the mysterious forces appearing around Glasgow, the Newspapers appearing randomly among the various characters are also telling their own narratives with the headlines: “Priest found beheaded in church” (p 12); and, “Man decapitated in local park” (p 35).
One of the most compelling characters is a little girl named Melissa who has a ghost of her own. At night she settles into her bed while knowing that sometime in the night she’ll wake to see outside her window the dark stranger again down below her in the street.
“It annoys her that parents don’t take her seriously. The way they treat her, not listening to what she tries to tell them, it’s as if she’s the ghost… Her sleepless nights have been making her late for getting up and dressed for school but it’s worth it, mostly. She sees all sorts of funny things at night from her window, and tonight is no exception. Once she saw a fox. Another time she saw a full-grown man the age of her dad peeing on the street, actually peeing. She’d stifled a giggle and watched in amazement as he’d left, walking all funny. The bell tower from the nearby university peals twelve times and she gazes out at the night sky. It’s raining so there’s not much to see. Then, she catches sight of a man. He looks sad. Lonely. She thinks to knock on the window to say hello but he’s a stranger and she knows not to. He looks up suddenly in her direction. She sees him smile and he givers her a little wave. There’s a moment where she freezes, not sure if she should cross this particular chasm. She dares herself and waves back at him, her face flushing. She watches him go… He was nice, she thinks to herself, as she snuggles back down under the duvet, not like the Zigzag Man, he’s not nice at all” (pgs 26-27).
The Awakening holds the frightening charm of a Stephen King novel filled & layered with the old-world gothic tone of The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, while expressing such elements found in the pages of the psychological mystery The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by James Hogg, and similar to the masterful invocation of the gothic & mythological as given to us in O Caledonia (1991) by Elspeth Barker.
Either way you read it, Ian Skewis is among good company, among the best.
Ian Skewis publishes FREE SIGNED PAPERBACK BOOKS and a regular newsletter. To receive your free books which are available worldwide (free postage too) simply sign up using the link here: https://www.ianskewis.com
Other publications by Ian Skewis include: The Lonely Cyclist and Inkling (science fiction stories), Borrowed Time (a piece of Doctor Who fan fiction), A Trick of the Light and A Man of Many Parts (horror stories).
Ian Skewis is an Associate Editor for Bloodhound Books and a freelance proofreader/editor. He is the author of best-selling novel A Murder of Crows (2017) and a member of the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), the Glasgow Editors’ Network, the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), and the Society of Authors.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
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~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
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GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
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American Novelist CG FEWSTON
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Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis