The Boy Who Could See Demons

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I first met my demon the morning that Mum said Dad had gone.
Alex Connolly is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter’s battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex’s mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn’t exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex’s claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons?

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pop your demons, burn your cookies and gather round the fire!

This is a very strange novel and a hard one to review at that, because everything I say might come out as a spoiler, now that I’ve read the ending and I know things for what they are.

The book swings between the narratives of Alex, the boy who could see demons, and Anya, the psychiatrist assigned to his case. While the issue at the crux of the novel is demons(or mental illness, if you aren’t given to fantasies), from schizophrenia and depression to the absolute suffering it bears down on the loved ones, Carolyn Jess-Cookes also explores with intricacy and subtlety, with dark jokes and Hamletian themes, the political conflicts in Northern Ireland and the hereditary nature of mental instability caused by the Troubles in the adults who once were children. About families and lost ones, about bad people who smile and help old ladies. About shadow violence that happens just out of the corner of your eye.

Alex has a best friend, Ruen, who’s a demon and thousands of years old and knows all languages and who makes his mother sad enough to try to kill herself. For the fifth time. Which places him under the care of Anya, a middle-aged woman who suffers still from the death of her schizophrenic child four years ago and her memories. Dispelling the existence of Ruen as a figment of imagination brought down by the instability Alex’s experienced all his life, Anya diagnoses him schizophrenic and starts treating him accordingly. Until, suspicions begin to creep in and inexplicable stuff happens and now nobody is sure anymore who or what is Ruen.

The thing I like best about the book is that unlike many novel which steep in and out of confusion and rely solely on their endings to blow our minds, The Boy Who Could See Demons maintains an engaging pace and narration throughout the book that makes you feel as though you need a singular more clue and you’ll have it all figured out. There is no distinct perplexity, it’s simple enough that either there’s a demon or there isn’t.

Until the ending.

And then it BLOWS YOUR MIND.

It isn’t perfect and would piss some people off, I guess, but I felt it was honest for a book that had been lying pretty much the whole time. There are times I feel it was just convenient, but fact is, after going through the novel once again, it makes sense, seeing the hints dropped here and there with truth and fiction mixing in a bit.

The story has a decidedly The Sixth Sense-flavor about it and I don’t mean it as a spoiler. The whole structure with a cute, unhinged child and an even more unhinged adult who gets obsessed with helping the child recover, finding in that a sort of absolution they couldn’t anywhere else, is similar and the haunting quality familiar.

The characters are solid and believable, including the side characters. Michael was a likable character with his firm belief in not separating a family, and Alex’s mom had her dejected past to contend with.

Frankly, I was surprised by how easily I had been immersed in the book and how much I came to like it. It was surprising without having to rely on shock factors. I don’t if it’d be your cup of tea or not, actually because I didn’t even know it was mine until I read the joke in Karen’s review.

A review copy was provided by the publishers.

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