"Guignol - A Tale of Escalating Horror" Book Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Published by Obscurity Publishing
Written by Brett Schwaner and illustrated by Keith Hogan
2015, 346 Pages, Fiction
Released on September 8th, 2015
Lonely Maelynn Maghee only knows watercolors; too shy to make friends and nearly neglected by her overworked emergency-room-manager mother, she hides behind her easel with her talent and a brush. That is, until Lilly Langtree arrives. More talented, more friendly, and more daring, Lilly bulldozes Maelynn into a fast friendship that leaves her head spinning. She ends up with a group of sweet girlfriends and a part in the school play within days. But is it just Lilly’s bravado that captures schoolgirls into her group of friends? Maelynn soon realizes that Lilly is more than just a persuasive and charming young lady. She’s evil and dangerous. If only Maelynn wasn’t already too late to stop her...
Guignol - A Tale of Escalating Horror, much like its young protagonist, is a book caught between many things. Maelynn and the girls want to be like Lilly, graceful and mysterious. Powerful over the adults in their lives that keep letting them down. But as they grow closer to Lilly, rather than blossoming into the swans, the girls grow into ravenous, deformed, shrieking...bats? What’s the opposite of a swan? They can’t fit in with other girls anymore; they’re too damaged and different. But they will never be Lilly; her power is only manipulation and she reserves the upper hand in all her relationships. Meanwhile, Guignol the book wants to be a horror novel for adults; author Brett Schwaner makes it clear in his press release that many situations are unsuitable for children and I whole-heartedly agree. But this book isn’t really ready for adults, either.
Touted as a book of “escalating horror”, the pacing never really takes off. Each chapter begins with a countdown to Halloween, which reminds me more of a Sesame Street exercise than a twisting screw of terror. It’s also unbearably repetitious. Lilly controls her victims via eye contact, and we are reminded of her method every time she does it. Every time. Every. Time. It feels like we’re being talked down to, spoonfed the story because our little minds couldn’t remember this one detail. It’s infantilizing and doesn’t add anything to the story but word count.
The “moral” of such a story is that it’s important to stand up for yourself, even to friends you admire. A hard lesson to learn, but something most of us learned on the playground, or at least an after school special on TV. I’ll always remember when DJ Tanner got bullied into wearing makeup and going to parties she wasn’t ready for; finally realizing she didn’t need to fit in with the cool girls when she had friends that loved her for who she was already. But DJ was a tween, not a grown up, and the adults already knew that lesson. We didn’t need to learn it again. Guignol would only work as a novel for tweens, not even teenagers (since at that point we can all agree smoking in the bathroom and drinking under the bleachers make you totally cool). But Lilly’s bullying is far too violent to make this a lesson for children. These are ten-year-old girls. No child should be reading something like this. So we end with a book that doesn’t know who it wants to reach and a story that doesn’t develop until the last twenty pages.
As it stands, Guignol - A Tale of Escalating Horror has unfortunately fallen into a generational gap that leaves it very few target readers. The next book in the series is due out, the illustration showing a teenage Maelynn and Lilly. I hope the format grows as well; the concept is interesting enough. Only time will tell.