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"Jack finished university three years ago, but he's still stuck in a dead-end job in a sinister call-centre in Manchester. When the beautiful (and rich) Jennifer comes into his life he thinks he has finally found his ticket out of there. Trouble is that his boss is interested in Jennifer as well, and there's something strangely bestial about him... So when Jennifer buys Fell House, a mysterious old mansion out in remote Cumbria, a house party on a legendary scale seems like the perfect escape. But as the party spins out of control on a seemingly neverending night, they must face up to the terrifying possibility that not all their guests may be human - and some of them want to feed."
The Leaping is a strange and powerful beast of a book. "The wind wakes me up in the early hours and I confuse the present with a memory," it begins, and that sense of the ethereal infecting the everyday pervades Tom Fletcher's impressive debut becomes a powerful theme throughout the atmospheric narrative which follows. Three parts character study to one part fearful folktale, this is a novel that I can't help but feel has been pitched poorly. If you want out and out werewolf fiction, avert your eyes. Such audiences come seeking visceral thrills and shlocky chills, and they'll find none herein. There's nothing so cheap about The Leaping; this is sophisticated and considered fiction - remarkably so given that its author is only 24 years young. Make no mistake: there are indeed werewolves, but they're only about for a bit, and even then the beasts are addressed with ambiguity and a tangible sense of reverence. Come to the table without such expectations and you'll find a haunting novel that far exceeds the potential appeal of everyday urban fantasy.
Jack and Francis, our alternating narrators for the duration, live in student accommodation in Manchester with a gaggle of twenty-something friends, though they're no longer students - the flat is just a hangover of their collective lack of organisational skills - but co-workers at a dismal call-centre in the city. In between shifts, they drink tea incessantly, club against their better judgment, and talk books and movies to pass the time. The glue that truly binds them together, though, is Mario Kart, games of which see them all gathered around the television in the living room, racing for dear life and red shells.
To begin with, The Leaping reads like the antithesis of lad lit, a novel written by and indeed for the new generation of the nation: alternative, disaffected and unapologetically middle-class youth with no real notion of career or family. Down-to-earth and refreshingly direct, it certainly struck a chord with me, thanks in no small part to such relatable, if not always likeable characters. You can't help but feel for Jack as he's harassed by his creepy supervisor Kenny at the call-centre, and soon enough you'll be whooping with joy when he gets a date with a hot goth.
Jennifer isn't just your token panda-eyed pretty girl, either. She's just come into an inheritance, which she spends on a run-down old cottage in the idyllic Yorkshire fells. She's just the push Jack needs to finally move on from the going-nowhere existence he's led for an interminable number of years, and together they kick in their jobs and move into Fell House to make a go of it. Sad to see their friend move on, Jack's flatmates - one of whom nurses an inappropriate crush on Jennifer - start planning an extravagant housewarming party, but what they don't know is that there's another event in the offing nearby: The Leaping. And The Leaping is a party like no other.
What all the plot synopsis in the world fails to convey about Tom Fletcher's uncanny novel, however, is the sense of dread that's palpable throughout The Leaping. Foreboding from the get-go and punctuated by utterly terrifying interludes, it might be a while before the werewolves come out of the woodwork, but when they do, two-thirds through, it's almost a relief. The suspense mounts inexorably... the feeling that something is very, very wrong builds and builds... until the curtain finally comes down - and all hell breaks loose. It makes for an incredibly satisfying moment, and though from that point on you're never quite sure what the state of play is - one can never truly know the unknowable - it's atmospheric, brutal and unrestrained.
Although it is, perhaps, rather at odds with all that's come before. There's a sudden shift in the narrative that can be difficult to parse, but if you're going to enjoy The Leaping, you'll already be well and truly enraptured by the point at which it threatens to comes undone. That momentary muddle aside, with great, quirky characters and bold prose, a brilliantly British sense of humour and a last act which leaves no-one unscathed by the horrors of the fellside on a night that never ends, Tom Fletcher's debut is a powerful and progressive piece of work.
Roll on The Thing on the Shore...
by Tom Fletcher