What had originally struck me about this book was its cover. The book is made up of two stories, what McCabe calls ‘Twin epistles of Gothic dread that will turn your world upside down’. The stories aren’t printed in a standard ‘one-follows-the-other’ way, but rather in a mirror of each other. One side of the book opens on Hello Mr. Bones, but if you were to flip the book upside down and turn it around, you’d find the opening to Goodbye Mr. Rat. The cover art is wonderful, and the stories themselves are just as eerie and creepy and confusing as the tag-line promises.
Both stories feature Irish main characters, who remember the height of the Troubles in the 50s and 60s. One story, Hello Mr. Bones, focuses on the emotional scars that abuse of any kind leaves behind – even when the person is long dead and gone – while Goodbye Mr. Rat focuses on feelings of guilt, and how you can never really shake them off, even beyond the grave.
Hello Mr. Bones
Following a certain Valentine Shannon, the story is told from the point of view of a rather eccentric, very dead man named Balthazar Bowen. Balthazar has been dead for a while, it seems, but this isn’t stopping him at all from exacting his revenge on Valentine, who led to his untimely demise – both metaphorically and literally. Balthazar seems to be some kind of puppet master, as he is perfectly capable of orchestrating Valentine’s strangest and most unsettling evening of his life, making sure that his vengeance lasts a life time.
While the story had it’s beautifully supernatural moments, and was grounded in some form of historical accuracy – the Michael Fish Hurricane controversy of 1987 takes center stage in the narrative – the language that the narrator used was incredibly daunting to get through. He paused and broke sentences in awkward moments – with full stops, no less – and used bombastic language that made me tired while reading it.
The story also felt a bit like it was trying too hard to be mysterious, which left me with a weird taste in my mouth. While I get the appeal in the Gothic (I remember the time it was a meme on tumblr, and loved reading them as much as the next person), and have always been a fan of the whole Welcome to Night Vale vibe, the whole thing felt like it was trying way too hard to give off the same vibe. We’re never given a straight answer about anything – Was Bailey real, or not? Was Bowen really all those people at once? Was Chris really the victim of child abuse? Was Valentine lying, or not?
Ultimately, if I had to pick between this one, or the other story, I’d pick the second.
Goodbye Mr. Rat
Let me just start by saying I absolutely loved reading this one. Like, no doubt about it.
Gabriel King is the narrator and protagonist of this story – he is also, much like Balthazar, very much dead. He’s speaking to us from a pile of ashes – his pile of ashes – that are being carried over from North America to Ireland, so that his ashes may be scattered in his homeland of the Iron Valley, by his best friend (and love of his life), Beni Banikin. Beni, unfortunately, isn’t to have a very good time on this little quest that she promised her late friend she would go through with.
While it lacks the very blatant supernatural feeling that the previous story did, this one does play a lot with your mind. The inhabitants of the Iron Valley all seem to know Beni’s name, even though this is just the first time they’ve met her (now that’s a proper Modern Gothic feeling). Beni’s reality is blurred by visions of previous misfortunes in her life, including abuse and rape, and it’s no surprise that we slowly have to watch her deteriorate in a very unsettling (and ultimately, dramatic) way. Gabriel King, lacking the ‘puppet master’ quality that Balthazar had, can only sit back and watch it all happen.
The narrative is also interspersed with memories from Gabriel’s time as a rebel during the Anglo-Irish conflicts, but the whole thing is thrown into serious doubt towards the end when you’re left with more questions (though not as much as Hello Mr. Bones leaves unanswered) – Was Gabriel lying about Africa? The hunger strike? The fact that he wasn’t involved in the murder of a family?
The whole story really plays on the guilt that any war brings to those who survive, and also makes a very important point about legacy, and what it does to the people we leave behind.
Final rating: 3/5 – honestly, while one story shone more than the other to me, it wasn’t a total waste of my time. However, I wouldn’t readily recommend this to just anyone.
Quotes I Liked: