Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
There seems to be a theme here, what with Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones being in the realm of Lovercraftian horror tomes, Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory has Harrison, a teenager with a fear of the ocean since he was young after a sailing accident marked the loss of his beloved father. Harrison is classed as a "sensitive" who can feel the pull of the spiritual world. He and his mother go to a place that might sound familiar to most Lovecraft fans, Dunnsmouth (Innsmouth) the sort of town where the people who live there are the sorts you don't want to mess with, or integrate with as they aren't exactly what you would call normal. So far Harrison has played a back-seat role regarding his life, but when his mother goes missing at sea, he has to brush with the unknown.
From the author of Afterparty, Daryl Gregory swaps futuristic drugs and their meaning in life for some Lovecraftian fun in Dunnsmouth which has a lighthouse, docks, rental place and a secondary school.
From the moment he gets there Harrison realises he's not going to get on with the other students but can’t put his finger on why. For what he has been through, he feels he isn't like them at all, but his mum is still enthusiastic about the creatures that swim in the ocean. One in particular takes her fancy. Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni and she sets off after it. Harrison feels alone, but is he really?
Lydia, a girl from the same school befriends him on his first day, showing him around and the professor can see he is no ordinary boy. He is looking for something, but Harrison thinks he is crazy. It is only when he is alone that the true nature of Dunnsmouth shows itself. When he goes outside he sees someone or something watching him in the trees. The thing looks like a bald man who spots his new book and takes off with it! He’s not normal either and as he has got a good look at him, he sees he's strange; with glassy eyes and sharp teeth.
Only a few days there gives Harrison the impression no one there is actually normal, but instead of letting it faze him, he tolerates each strange occurrence. Along the way after his mother has disappeared, he is left clues as to where she might be, but even the clues he sees as vague even though he tries to follow them.
I like that Gregory has made this a Lovecraftian comedy complete with a funny swimming tutorial, a hilarious lobster-eating scene and an old poem that would shed some light on where his mother might be. The way Gregory has written it shows almost everything that happens in the book does so for a reason; from the love note he is given by the nurse to the clues in the map to the library. They are all linked, humorously so, but the idea is if Harrison wants to find his mother he will have to take his journey over the one thing he hates.
Harrison Squared is a welcome departure from Gregory's usual novels and humour just seems to suit him very well. This is a coming of age story for Harrison who finds unlikely allies in some of the characters. His mother proves to be almost impossible to find until half way through the book, and even then it doesn't look good for her in her situation. Harrison is dipped into the wild world of the strange creatures and sinister shadows with alarming humour in almost each chapter. The author of Afterparty has created Lovecraft with a distinct funny-bone.
Sandra Scholes, 8.5/10
When I first picked up Harrison Squared I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, mostly because it has a sixteen year old male protagonist and I didn’t fancy reading a book that may be full of depressed teenagers... Instead I found a book that will appeal to all ages, a book that has moments of intense creepiness and danger but also full of humour.
Harrison as mentioned is sixteen and arrives in Dunnsmouth with his mother so that she can continue her research on large marine animal’s transitory movements. Harrison is enrolled at the local school, but from the moment of their arrival something doesn’t feel right about the town, although this may be due to neither Harrison nor his mother being able to receive a mobile phone signal. Things get stranger as Harrison meets his classmates who all seem to be identical as each has black hair, pale skin and dark eyes. There is also something off about his classmates as they are silent and well behaved.
The plot thickens when Harrison’s mother disappears from a boat on their second day in town. Brushed off by the police, Harrison is soon looking into whether there is a conspiracy surrounding his mother’s disappearance and the inhabitants of Dunnsmouth. There is also the second mystery of what happened to Harrison when he was three years old, and why he is able to summon rage which goes well beyond teenage hormones.
Harrison Squared has a wide supporting cast that brings pathos, smarts and a lot of humour to the story. The book can get very dark at times especially as it has many qualities of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, whilst bringing a fresh feel to a story that has been retold in various forms over the decades. Like all good Lovecraftian novels, there should be ancient gods of chaos and a cult that worships them, in this case the god is Urgaleth (the mover between worlds) and the cult is a mix of the township of Dunnsmouth and the Dwellers of the Deep, even if both Urgaleth and the Dwellers are little more than myth to most of the townspeople.
My favourite supporting character is Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who is fabulous; she turns up as Harrison’s temporary guardian and is hilarious as she doesn’t seem like the kind of person that is very relatable. Sel is a cosmopolitan woman that knows more about where the best cocktails are than raising a child, but throughout this book she has Harrison’s back and can be relied upon to keep the authorities on their toes.
As a stranger in town Harrison is always going to be an outsider, and in Dunnsmouth he is excluded from many of the activities that a native of the town would be expected to attend. This allows Harrison more freedom in many ways as he doesn’t know which rules he should be following and is happy to break the ones that don’t match his understanding of the real world. I really liked Harrison he is a kid who knows how to look after himself even if Dunnsmouth that means putting himself in danger, but it also allows him to push himself after the truth and not just accept what he is told.
I really enjoyed this book, if you enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s other book Afterparty then you will probably like Harrison Squared as well. Both books have very different subject matters, although both are dark in nature. Harrison is a far more relatable protagonist than Lyda Rose was, but he is still made of stern stuff which makes you root for him and hope that he will still be standing at the end of the book. Darryl Gregory is definitely a writer I would be happy to read again.
Michelle Herbet, 8.3/10
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