Newest Review: ... is this a divine power for good or evil? I think the thing that I loved most about this book was the central concept. Herbert has writ... more
Let it Shrine
Shrine - James Herbert
Member Name: samueltyler
Shrine - James Herbert
Advantages: Great premise, very well written
Disadvantages: Dated feel, pace issues
There are certain things in life that you know are flawed, but still love. People will look at you and wonder why you rant and rave about something which the vast majority see as average at best. In music it is my love for the obscure indie band ‘David Devant and His Spirit Wife’ and in fiction one example is ‘Shrine’. It is hard to explain why you are able to look past the flaws in something to see its core, but I will give it a mini go in this book review.
Fenn is your typical local town reporter and he does not think anything exciting is going to happen on his night shift. This can't be further from the truth when he stumbles across a small girl lying in the road. She takes him to a strange tree and turns and speaks one sentence; nothing odd about this? It turns out that Alice is a deaf mute and that her talking is a miracle. Alice becomes increasingly drawn towards the tree and slowly a following of people gather to see her. It seems that she can harness the power of Mary to heal the ill, but is this a divine power for good or evil?
I think the thing that I loved most about this book was the central concept. Herbert has written about a set of miracles and taken it out of the context of sandal wearing bearded guys up mountains and placed it in modern society. Can you imagine what chaos there would be in today’s media savvy world? If a simple blotch in a watermelon can have 1000s of pilgrims in Mexico, what would several miracle cures do? The fact that Fenn is a reporter means that the media point of view is discussed heavily. This level of cynicism adds a lot to the events that occur throughout the book.
The other area that I liked was the level of menace. Herbert has written this book as a slow burner and forces you to read a lot of background in between thrilling sections. For some this may prove too cumbersome, but as a fan of meatier novels I found this great. Not only does this research get you better informed, but it also heightens the horror when it does arrive. The book trundles along at a nice pace only to be hit by one of the best written action sequences that I have ever read. The momentum and narrative were perfect for me.
The quality of Herbert’s writing is rarely a problem and it continues with his characterisations. By concentrating on Fenn, a cynical, unreligious and deeply flawed man we get to view proceedings from a neutral standpoint. This does not stop Herbert from populating the rest of the novel with more extreme viewpoints; be they believers, profiteers or even nutters. Each side of the argument towards miracle or fake is seen from several viewpoints making the book long, but balanced.
Despite all the good things above there are a number of issues that I noted that could make others not enjoy the book as much as me. Firstly, if you are reading the new edition of the book you may be struck by how dated it feels. It took me 50 pages before I looked at the front and saw that it was written in the early 80s. This means that the book does feel dated and although it covers relevant themes you have to remember as a reader to try and imagine it was before mobiles and the internet.
I have already mentioned that some people may question the length of the book as it is long for a Herbert title, more reminiscent of a Stephen King length. However, I found the gentle pace matched the story perfectly and that the action set pieces in particular were described well. There is also the issue that the book peaks a little too early, however, for a book to peak it has to have something worthwhile going on. I also feel that one or two of the side characters in the book are unnecessary and do not add anything to the overall plot.
‘Shrine’ is a flawed gem of a book that some people will see as average, but I loved. It was a combination of Herbert’s great writing, strong characters and a great central premise. Rather than taking a straight forward approach to religious horror, Herbert has written an interesting ‘modern’ media based approach. I am sure this has been done since, but it left me thinking about the plot days after – and this is the best complement that I can give a book.
Author: James Herbert
Price: amazon uk - £5.29
play.com - £5.49
Summary: A fine pot boiler from a master of horror