Sin and guilt have afterlives.
The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a strikingly original, stunning, entrancing example of postmodern literary fiction at its very best—literary fiction that is accessible and enjoyable to all readers, not just to the literati. The Chalk Man is much more than a mystery; it examines intertwined themes as seen through the eyes of a first-person narrator. It is a highly focused view into the mind of a likable, quirky, protagonist. The text reflects and questions values and the nature of reality, suggesting the possibility that there may be no absolute truth.
The story is set in a small town in Great Britain. Tudor includes enough regionalization to set the stage, to create a sense of place; however, she wisely keeps it to a minimum, thus allowing the setting to morph into any town for any reader, allowing all to feel at home in Anderbury.
The main character is Ed, a twelve-year-old boy/forty-two-year-old bachelor who defines himself as a “collector,” a quirky proclivity that follows him throughout his life. Ed’s thoughts and fears reflect and examine universal concerns and fears that will resonate in the minds of most readers. He is a good boy who loves his flawed family. He analyzes everything and makes questionable decisions that burrow deep and haunt him with guilt. His parents are an odd couple. His mother is a doctor who works at an abortion clinic, and his father is a freelance writer and pseudo hippy. Ed has three close friends, each representing distinct archetypal personalities. Of course, there is a pretty red-haired girl. Their lives are forever altered when they find the body parts of a young woman in the woods. Her missing head is a symbol of unanswered questions, an undercurrent that ripples throughout the entire novel.Never assume. Question everything. Always look beyond the obvious. C.J. Tudor Click To Tweet
The plot is non-linear, extremely complex and rich with numerous, unpredictable twists and turns. Readers must pay attention to every line because Tudor surreptitiously buries meaningful clues, red herrings, and reading instructions in the text. They resurrect when least expected and haunt the subconscious. Tudor skillfully leads readers back and forth between 1986 and 2016, enabling them to compare everyday children of the eighties to what they become thirty years later. It is very interesting that Tudor switches tense along with the era. When in 1986, Ed speaks in the past tense, then when the text jumps to 2016, he speaks in the present tense. This style is a bit disconcerting at first, but makes total sense once one catches on to its significance. Everything is seen through the fractured lens of Ed’s mind. The pacing is full speed and further reading is guaranteed by organic end-of-chapter hooks. Every scene is well planned and meaningful. Readers will be so entranced by the plot that they will be driven to keep reading, then end up being sorry when it’s over.
Tudor’s literary abilities are admirable. She is a master of dialogue and seldom needs tags because actions identify speakers. Each character speaks with an authentic, unique voice. A hypnotic, foreboding mood taints the narrative from start to finish. Evocative visuals and meaningful metaphors enhance the atmosphere. The title is the first of many ambiguities that will taunt readers and draw them deeper into the text, searching for answers from page one on to the shocking finale.
C. J. Tudor has created a tale of important insights that unearth and examine universal fears and issues such as secrets, obsession, abortion, family dynamics, sin, guilt, revenge, abuse, murder, mystery, health, identity, joy, terror–issues that all face. This wide range of topics guarantees that any and all readers will devour The Chalk Man with relish. As with Blake’s grain of sand, here is the universe. This read is highly recommended.