by Tim Lebbon
Published by Night Shade Books, 2008
We are living in a golden age of horror writing at the moment, maybe not in terms of sales (damn those pesky members of the public) but certainly in terms of quality of writing. Tim Lebbon is one of the writers at the forefront of this golden age so a new horror novel by him is a major event.
Bar None is a love story, a dark, tragic occasionally horrific love story but a love story none the less, based around relationships and the love of beer. Set in a post apocalyptic England we meet a band of survivors holed up in an old estate with only a few bottles of beer for company. A visit by a mysterious stranger prompts the survivors to risk a deadly road trip to find Bar None.
The story is told by way of chapters named after beer. Each chapter links current events with a memory or two from the characters previous (normal) lives. It is the beer which evokes these memories and the beer which links present and past. As the story progresses we learn more about the characters, their past, their motivations and get a lesson in advanced beer tasting.
This really is a beautifully written book there are several passages, particularly one close encounter with a fox, that left me deeply touched, why, if I wasn’t a rugged highlander I might have even shed a tear or two. Tim Lebbon has really created a novel which transcends the genre. Its ambiguous, it’s disconcerting, it’s deeply moving but it’s all those things whilst still being a really good, thrilling read.
It’s hard to believe that this is not at least partly autobiographical, the memories of the sights and sounds which are linked to the various types of beer are so detailed, so intense, so real. And at the end the whole book retains its aura of mysterious ambiguity beautifully, right up to the final page (and beyond). Strange creatures are glimpsed, strange places visited, strange characters are met on the journey. It’s dreamlike, almost mythic.
This is a book every bit as good as Cormac McCarthy’s critically acclaimed The Road. In many ways it’s similar, a post apocalyptic road trip, but for me, this is the more successful book infused as it is with much more mystery, narrative drive and character development.
Regular visitors to this site will know that I have a lot of time for Tim Lebbon’s work, his recent fantasy novels have been immense, so any new book comes with a huge degree of anticipation and a certain amount of trepidation (he’s bound to write a bad one sooner or later) but this is a book that more than lives up to it’s promise.
It’s a book I will be reading again (and again), there are so many layers here, it’s impossible to dig through them all on a first reading. No, like the beer it so beautifully describes this is a book to savor time and time again to get all the subtle nuances. Tim Lebbon goes from strength to strength in my mind, this isn’t horror writing of the highest order, this is writing of the highest order. Now I am off to crack open a bottle of Green Goblin and see where it takes me.
Rating 5 out of 5