Set in 1983, at the height of the ‘video nasty’ storm whipped up by the media and government of the time, Dead Leaves tells the tale of three teenagers who have found themselves aimless and mostly jobless after leaving school. The friends are given the opportunity to find their holy grail, in this case a VHS copy of the horror film The Evil Dead, but – just as in the epic versions of the quest story – there are various trials and tribulations to face.
Andrew David Barker’s follow up to his debut The Electric is a novel that, despite being a work of fiction, feels real enough to be an autobiography. Barker’s writing flows effortlessly, perfectly evoking the atmosphere and emotions of the time, be they of one person or conflicting generations; he includes film and music references that form a soundtrack to the story, giving an added sense of reality to each scene. Anyone who has ever found themselves wondering which way is next in life will find that the writing really resonates, massaging or tugging at the heartstrings depending on personal feeling.
Of course, there's more to this than a nostalgia trip. The narrator is extremely likeable and, despite their flaws, so are his friends. There are moving moments that may bring tears to eyes, while there are others that will have readers laughing out loud. Barker’s command of dialogue is exceptional, making the book feel like a conversation with an old friend. Told in short chapters that can sometimes only be a few words long, Dead Leaves isn’t a rollercoaster ride packed with twists and turns designed to keep the reader guessing. Instead, it's an insight into someone whose life is changing, a young man who wants to break free and follow his dreams, but is told to get a ‘proper job’.
At just over 150 pages, there isn't a wasted word; it is paced perfectly, the interactions between characters and their growth is spot on. Like life, there are ups and downs, but it's never dull, always cajoling the reader to continue. Barker gets the nostalgia level just right, making sure Dead Leaves isn't a tale told through rose-tinted spectacles, instead creating a work of genuine warmth, wit and passion, a unique and vivid coming-of-age tale that should be ranked amongst the best.
DEAD LEAVES / AUTHOR: ANDREW DAVID BARKER / PUBLISHER: BOO BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW