You might know Darren Shan – real name: Darren O’Shaughnessy - from uber-successful young adult novels like the Cirque du Freak series (once adapted into a Hollywood movie in 2009) or Zom-B. What you might not know is that he also writes adult novels under the pen name Darren Dash. An Other Place is his latest foray into writing for more mature audiences – and it sees an imaginative writer at the top of his craft.
An Other Place follows Newman Riplan who, after partying hard in Amsterdam, finds that his plane journey out of there takes him to a strange other world. A place where only one nameless city exists, populated by people with oddly short-term memories who haven’t bothered to invent indoor plumbing or glass. This is all strange enough, but when savage creatures attack the city when the moon turns red, Newman decides he must escape – at any cost.
To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the mind-bending journey that An Other Place offers. Your humble reviewer read the novel from cover to cover in one sitting, which goes to show just how adept Dash is at building a central mystery and quest for answers that the reader must see through to the end. Existing somewhere between speculative fiction and straight-up horror, it brings to mind The Twilight Zone (as referenced by Newman at one point). Yet even Rod Serling himself would have struggled to come up with an alternate world so completely off-the-wall and yet oddly meaningful as Dash has here.
The sense of anguish the protagonist feels about being trapped in such a nonsensical, infuriating place is keenly felt through the near stream-of-consciousness first person narrative voice. Newman starts out as pretty unlikeable – rich, misogynistic and rude, though not to ridiculous degrees – but you’ll find yourself sympathising with him once he’s reduced to a desperate man trapped in his own weird hell. It is Newman’s dry, sarcastic sense of humour that serves to punctuate the impenetrable setting and keeps you engaged even during the story’s weirdest moments. On the other hand, things also veer into harrowing territory at times as Dash, despite the fantastical setting, doesn’t shy away from some very real-world evils. Make no mistake, this is not an all-ages book.
With so many zany ideas, you can’t escape the feeling that Dash was feeling his way through the story as he went – and he apparently wrote it over a hefty period of 18 years. If that is the case, though, that only increases the edge-of-your-seat thrill of reading a novel that is nearly always unpredictable and quite unlike anything we have read for a while. Only the final reveal was a little expected to this reader, even if it suitably leaves you guessing.
Be warned, if you like your books to serve up neat answers and end with everything tied up in a bow, then this isn’t for you. If you want something that lingers in the memory, is open to interpretation and has a demented energy all of its own, however, make sure to take a trip (trip being the operative word) to An Other Place.
AN OTHER PLACE / AUTHOR: DARREN DASH / PUBLISHER: CREATESPACE INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING PLATFORM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW