Saturday, August 28, 2010

Arty -- The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh

Jack Perdu is a ninth-grade Classics prodigy, living with his father on the Yale University campus and spending his time translating Ovid's Metamorphoses. He doesn't spend much time with the other kids, preferring to bury his nose in the old Greek legends - especially his favorite, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Then Jack is hit by a car. He should have died, but he pulls through. That's when he starts to see things - odd things. His father sends him to a doctor in New York City, just in case.

That's where Jack meets Euri, a girl his age, who leads him down to the underworld beneath Grand Central Station. But the people that live there aren't quite right - and Jack's about to find out why.

As a Greek mythology fan myself, I found the story especially interesting, though, as a few Amazon reviews have noted, those who aren't familiar with the basics of Greek legend might miss half the fun.

The Night Tourist takes all the best of both legend and ghost story and blends them together. There's the New York Underworld (as opposed to the Greek Underworld), the three-headed guard dog, the 'Now That You're Dead' seminar, the ways the ghosts mix with the mortals... it's all delightfully morbid without being depressing.

Jack was extremely likable, and, surprisingly, Euri was as well; their chemistry felt natural and sweet, without being forced or even romantic - a welcome change from most stories. Few characters were important enough for a great deal of building, but the ones that were - Jack and Euri, mainly - Marsh revealed at a good pace.

That said, Marsh's underemphasized, simplistic style didn't compliment the characters very well. Especially at the beginning, it was almost hard to read with interest. The writing gets better the farther along the story progresses, but there's always the nagging feeling that it could have been better.

The story has a few different subplots, and at times it can be hard to keep them all in mind. The subplot revolving around Jack's 'deceased' mother and his living father gets especially confusing at the tail end of the novel, but the persistent reader will be able to sort it out after a while.

A few more notes for cautious readers: The idea of the afterlife in this novel is a very popular one, with ghosts being stuck in their underworld until all their 'problems' have been solved. Then they 'go on;' wherever that is, we're never told. A few ghosts toy with the living, who are trying to communicate using a Ouija board. Suicide was addressed, briefly, but in an... well, an interesting way that I'm not sure I really agree with.

Despite all that, The Night Tourist really was a good book - the ending, especially. Marsh does not sugarcoat, and she does not give you a happily-ever-after. But there's a certain bittersweet finality that makes you want to read it all over again.

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