Fifty Books, 365 Days. Book Five – The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

A quick word of warning before I begin (doing a lot of these lately, aren’t I?), this will not be a normal review. I’m counting this as one of my fifty books, but this post will be more of a discussion of my history with it, interspersed with my thoughts on it now, and there will be spoilers after the cover art. Consider yourself warned.

Date started: January 26th

Date finished: January 27th

The Thief of Always is the tale of Harvey Swick, a ten year old boy who is bored in the middle of February. A man called Rictus appears in his room, and offers to take him to the Holiday House. The house is a magical place where every day begins with Spring, has an afternoon of lazy Summer, an evening of Halloween, and a Christmas present and snow every night. But, of course, not everything is as it seems. This is a Clive Barker novel after all.

Seriously, spoilers!

The Holiday House is run by a vampire called Mr Hood, but rather than being a vampire who feeds on blood, he feeds on the lost days of children. For every day that passes in the Holiday House, a whole year passes out in the real world. Every morning is a whole Spring, every afternoon a Summer, and entire Winters disappear overnight.

And as a child, this fucking terrified me. After I had read my way through my entire school’s stock of books, I started taking them out from the local library. I can’t remember the exact age I took out the Thief of Always, but it was around the time I started to grasp the concept of my own mortality, and the mortality of my parents. At around the halfway point of the book, Harvey escapes from the Holiday House and makes it home through the partially strange town. He was in the Holiday House for just over thirty days, and when he gets home, he’s greeted by two elderly strangers. The first time, that was as far as I got. I got scared of the idea of my parents dying, then I got scared of myself dying, I cried a lot and took the book back.

In the years since, I forgot much about the book. I forgot who wrote it, I forgot the title, but I never forgot that scene. Harvey returning home to find he missed thirty years of his parents’ lives. Finding them so old, so frail. So mortal.

It was another blog post where I saw the book mentioned, and the title rang a bell. I inquired after it, and it was the same book that so terrified me as a child. Even at 23, I woke in a sweat after dreaming of the Holiday House again. So I steeled myself, found a copy of the book online, and ordered it. After finishing Embassytown, I dove straight into it, and devoured the whole thing in two sittings.

I will admit, the Thief of Always didn’t have the same effect on me this time as it did all those years ago. I mean, of course not, it is a book written for children. But it’s very well written. Harvey’s friendship with Wendell reminded me of childhood friendships. Harvey’s friendship with, and probable crush on, Lulu was simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. And the core theme of the novel, that we should cherish every day and live it to the best of our abilities is one that I think everyone can relate to and try to apply to their own lives. It might be a story for children, but it had enough ideas, depth, and imagination for me to be engrossed as an adult. At around 230 pages, it’s also a very quick read for anyone looking for a break from longer books. Highly recommended, to people of any age, except maybe very small children, judging by my initial reaction.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back with another one soon, as I endeavour to solve the mystery of one of 2012’s best hailed novels with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

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