The Crying Boy is an excellent myth on which to base a novel and one that Jane James clearly has some in depth knowledge on. The opening section of the book – in first-person from the painting’s POV- really jolted me, hard. This was an excellent section, wholly immersive, tantalisingly creepy and pitch-perfect in the narrative choice. It also demonstrated a particular strong grasp and use of dialogue by James. All in, The Crying Boy has one of the strongest openings to any book I’ve read. Ever.
With such an accomplished opening, I had high expectations going into the rest of the book, which for the most part were met.
Utilising a third-person, present-tense throughout, Jane’s prose is accomplished and very descriptive, skilfully immersing the reader in the musty, opaque corridors of the world James exposes them to. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of dialogue present in parts of the book, mostly because the writer demonstrated a high degree of skill in writing the spoken word in the earliest scenes of the book, making me want more… a lot more. As a result of this reduction in dialogue, the prose felt a little exposition-heavy at times for my tastes, but perhaps, where dialogue is concerned, others will find that less is more in this case.
For me personally I’d like to have seen more interactions between the characters similar to those that took place in the prologue. Similarly, I’d have liked to have seen the painting’s ‘character’ pushed to the fore. This was a skilful use of characterisation, and an adept use of alternative viewpoint. For me, the novel would have benefited from a greater presence of this ‘character’. Perhaps even as the main protagonist throughout.
Despite a few minor quibbles, most of which are wholly subjective, I really enjoyed The Crying Boy. James’ novel is a fine example of an eerie, insular, tightly-cornered beast of a story; all threatening corners and complex emotions and characters. To read, it felt like watching an early John Carpenter movie, like The Thing. Seeped in intrigue and threatening presence. It’s a book I know that I’ll revisit several times, as it is one of those reads in which the reader finds something new to love or fear or recoil from on each visit.
A very accomplished story from a skilled author.
You can find Jane E James at Bloodhound Books