I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook of NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill, wow what a ride, literally. Ably read by Kate Mulgrew, I started out at the beginning of the book only able to listen to it in short bursts, as the heroine Vic McQueen, then a child, discovers what exactly the Shorter Way Bridge can do. The mothering instinct in me was so desperate for Vic not to cross the rickety old covered bridge on her Raleigh bike, that starts out in a forest and ends wherever something that has been lost needs to be found. Each time Vic crosses the bridge she becomes ill and on one trip, when she meets someone on the other side who tells her she is not alone in her abilities and that some do not use their talents for good, it soon becomes apparent that her trips across the bridge are very dangerous indeed.
Fast forward to her late teens and Vic is one troubled teenager of a broken home, her bike is long gone and she has dismissed her trips across The Shorter Way Bridge as childhood fantasies, but when she finds her bike again, she goes looking for trouble and trouble finds her, in the shape of Charlie Manx. Manx has an inscape of his own, ‘Christmasland’, a land where it is always Christmas and he has been kidnapping children to send there, in his vintage Rolls Royce, with the number plates NOS 4R2, for years. Manx is intrigued to meet someone with abilities similar to his own.
Vic barely escapes with her life and the experience sends her into a series of mental institutions, but she eventually leaves, believing again that her Shorter Way Bridge is a fantasy. Vic has a child of her own and then Manx comes to collect him…..
This is such a fantastic book; there is a great cast of characters as well as Vic and Manx, there is Lou, who is sort of my favourite, the morbidly overweight sometimes lover of Vic and father of her son, a comic book nerd who wants to be a hero one more time and there is Bing, Manx’s ‘sidekick’ who sings pathetic little sing song songs and is desperate to go to Christmasland himself, some of the scenes between Manx and Bing are almost funny. Hill gets under the skin of all his characters, making you feel their needs and wants, immersing you in their world.
Listening to NOS 4R2 gave me that almost physical sensation that I only get rarely with a book, slipping into the story is almost akin to that sensation of slipping into a warm bath or between the sheets of a freshly made bed, it makes me want to curl into a little ball of pleasure, I feel almost sad having finished the book that I have finished it if you know what I mean, I am no longer in that world. Having said all that and however much I love NOS 4R2 I personally think it is not quite as good as one of Hill’s other books, Horns, which is up there in my hallowed list of ‘all time favourite books’ but really there’s not much between them, I think just the theme of Horns resonated slightly more with me than the theme (parenting) of NOS 4R2. Having said that though, NOS 4R2’s parenting theme was still incredibly powerful stuff.
***** (out of 5)