CLUBBING is so hip and modern --- and British --- that it comes with a lexicon to help you decipher its main character’s way of speaking. Surprisingly, that’s not pretentious or condescending. It’s actually helpful and even a little fun, so much so that you’d hardly know what the book has in store for you down the road.
CLUBBING (the title has multiple layers, referencing its lead’s club-kid/goth status as well as golf, country clubs and the secret club to which some characters in the story belong) is set in the countryside of merry old England. Charlotte Brook is a teenager in London who gets caught using a fake ID while out with her friends. Brought home by the cops, she is soon exiled to her grandma and grandpa’s country estate in the middle of nowhere. She thinks the experience will be easy enough to suffer through --- she’ll bake a few cakes with her grandma, spend a little time resting and being bored, and then be right back in action. Unfortunately for her, her grandparents have some different ideas. They put her to work --- hard work too --- and expect her to pull her own weight. Sweetly and innocently, her grandma also pushes Charlotte to see more of the groundskeeper’s son.
All of this seems like the setting of a sweet romantic comedy, but that’s not exactly the case. Here’s where the book changes course, only with a few slight warnings ahead of time. That CLUBBING doesn’t play its hand too soon is part of its wicked charm; it has a sly sense of humor running throughout and it doesn’t mind teasing its readers with a slowly unfolding and widening plot.
When one of the country club employees is found murdered (with ritual markings on her body suggesting a frightening connection to the occult), Charlotte begins looking into the circumstances that led up to the death, trying to determine the who and why behind it and, in true mystery-thriller fashion, getting dangerously close to the monstrous truth. Charlotte is an extremely likable narrator, one who guides us through not only her own bizarre world (she shows up in the countryside in $300 Bette-noir stiletto heels) but that of her grandparents with aplomb. She even manages to finagle both worlds with a lot of style. It turns out that the goth stylings to which Charlotte aspires has something in common with darker themes --- except that some people are really into the things that Charlotte only pretends to do.
CLUBBING utilizes some of the visual tricks of manga, but it’s not completely in that vein. The artistic details are more nuanced and smooth. In that sense, it’s a nice marriage of art styles just as much as it is a smooth blending of different storytelling genres. Old superstitions and legends mixed with a decidedly modern protagonist make for a clever combo, and it’s filled with enough innocent yet still subversive fun to make it worth the trip.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 10, 2007