THE BOOK OF THE BAKU by R.L. Boyle
Sean is a 13-year-old boy who has been taken into care and eventually fostered by his estranged grandfather. His grandfather is a writer, living in a large house in a middle-class area, all very different to the estate Sean grew up on. Sean hasn’t spoken since the incident which put him into care. Trapped inside himself, in a strange environment, with a man he barely knows, Sean seeks refuge in books, and loses himself in a collection of short stories his grandfather wrote following the death of his wife. The Book of the Baku.
The Baku is a figure from Japanese folklore, known as a dream-eater. When a child suffers from nightmares, they can feed their dreams to the Baku… but this might not be the end of their problems.
As Sean’s grandfather becomes mired in grief and retreats to his writing shed in the garden, the Baku begins to torment Sean, drawing ever closer.
From start to end, this book is written with a skilful hand. The prose is powerful and intensely moving in places, and the use of repetition pulls us deeper into Sean’s growing dread. The story moves between the present time at Grandad’s, with flashbacks to the past, where we witness Sean and his friends trying to get through life on the estate, where violence is expected and gangs rule. Even shootings are commonplace. Sean, with his bad leg and knee brace, already stands out. When you add in his growing artistic talent, his friends see a way for him to escape the life of poverty and hardship which has already been mapped out for all of them.
The story is revealed to the reader little by little, as Sean begins to come to terms with what happened. This is horror at its finest; dread, and fear and helplessness building, until it all gives way to the true horror of Sean’s past. When I started reading The Book of the Baku, I did not expect to be sobbing by the end, but there I was, heartbroken. Clever, moving, and deftly told, I would highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to see what R.L. Boyle does next.