Does a pond of standing water actually suck children into the deep or does it represent something even more sinister? David Castleton’s book is welcome reminder that books that don’t make it to the bestseller lists can be just engaging. The Standing Water straddles the fine line between gothic, near horror fiction, while throwing us enough clues to remind us that it is set in real life.
At the story’s centre is violence. A violence that most millennials will never have known – corporal punishment in schools. It seems hard to imagine that not long ago teachers thrashing children was the norm. The book is set, for those in the UK, just before the public’s perspective of corporal punishment in schools took an about face. The book also illuminates how that violence was acceptable, because violence was acceptable in almost every facet of life – Castleton brilliantly illustrates the brutal violence children inflicted upon each other.
Amidst this violence, real and threatened, Ryan suspects the head of his school, Mr Weirton, is responsible for the deaths of several children. The Standing Water’s greatest strength is the depiction of Ryan and his friends in a grim Northern town affected by a stagnating economy. He begins by describing what could be an alternative time in which ghosts, demons and gods exist alongside humans. Castleton gently fleshes out his setting, situating it in a real time and believable place, populating his town with true to life characters filtered through the perspective of a seven-year-old boy.
The book’s weak point would be an abrupt change in narrator – switching to Weirton’s point of view – so late in the book. His version of events clarify certain incidents in the book, but I don’t think this was necessary. Ryan’s point of view was so much more effective and would have retained the air of mystery and foreboding. Nonetheless, Weirton’s perspective ties up a few loose ends and brings closure to the story.
I’d recommend this book to fans of books that take a grim or bleak perspective on life. It’s for lovers of menace and dread and is well worth the read.