To some of us the 1980's feel as though they were just last week. It was a strange and exciting to be a teenager in the UK. It was a grim period of time, with strikes, riots, terrible jumpers and some terrible music. However, it was also an exciting time for horror fans as it saw the birth of home video. Those of you of a certain age will still remember the day you got your first VHS or Betamax video player, suddenly the world of film and TV was ripped open. We were no longer restricted to watching films at the cinema or waiting and waiting for them to appear on terrestrial television, and remember there was a time where we only had three TV channels. The home video market, for a time meant that we could watch basically whatever we wanted to, there was no such thing as film ratings for video cassettes. It was a glorious time to be a kid until the Video Nasties legislation came in and cut off our supply.
Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker is a one man love letter to that period, set in 1983 in the Midlands of England it tells the story of three friends and their quest to get their hands on an illegal copy of The Evil Dead. A quest that will no matter what the outcome will have their lives changed in one way or another.
Coming of Age stories are a staple of horror fiction, and it is easy to see why they are so popular, as the old saying goes nostalgia isn't what it used to be. We all want to be reminded about what we all think of as the good old days, the days where we all didn't have any cares in the world, other than girls, beer, books and films. The real worries of adulthood weren't yet fully upon us held at bay by the last fleeting flushes of our youth, it has always been an odd period in a persons life, one that Andrew David Barker captures perfectly in this wonderfully evocative, and deeply emotional and resonate story of one fateful week in 1983.
Dead Leaves, isn't so much a horror story it's more of a love letter to all of the films that shaped us as a kids. This isn't about monsters or things that go bump in the night, it's about friendships, a shared love of horror films and the inevitability that one day the real world will come crashing through our front door and force us to grow up. In fact that is the monster of the book, the dark and dirty reality of the UK in the 1980's permeates each page. From the almost hopelessness of being on the Dole with no future and no prospects, to the ever growing social deprivation and the gangs of football thugs and casual and not so casual racism, the stark reality of adult life crouches like a predator in the dark corners of the page. The villains of the book Peroxide and Teardrop pursue the boys and in particular Scott throughout the bookat times I wondered if Barker was using them as a metaphor for the ever encroaching adulthood. If this was his intention then it was masterstroke of genius.
Barker captures the sights and sounds of life in the 1980s with vivid clarity, his depictions of life then are spot on. From the descriptions of the city and those who inhabit it, to the way they speak will transport right back that era. There is one, almost through away, passage where the three lads go into a corner shop, Barker's use of a highly offensive description for the shop, is both shocking and fully justified, as it captures the era perfectly. It's a word that so any of our parents and grandparents would have without ever actually meaning to cause offensive. It's all the small details like this that really makes this book live and breath in the era. Many writers fail in setting their stories in near history, but Barker shines in this area.
Dead Leaves is the story of Scott, Paul, and Mark, and the dynamics of their friendship is a thing of beauty. Their interactions with each other and the peripheral characters reads so true that you begin to wonder if this is an autobiography masquerading as fiction. They live and breath on the page, with their hopes, dreams and even their fears laid bare before us. The characters are so strong that you cannot help but be drawn to them and even be reminded of some of your own past friends.
Dead Leaves is a bittersweet coming of age story, full of emotionally charged writing that manages to present a sentimental look at a bygone age without ever becoming schmaltzy. Deeply moving and perfectly realized it cements Andrew David Barker's reputation as a top flight writer.
Dead Leaves is currently on a large discount this week on Amazon UK pick up a copy now you can thank me later.
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