Today I made a terrible discovery. Over the course of the last two decades, I’ve moved around a bit, always trailing in my wake various boxes full of books. Somehow, over time, as new books are added, old ones disappear. Two of my favourites, Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and James Herbert’s The Magic Cottage, have both vanished into L-Space.
I went looking for The Magic Cottage because I remember it as the book that first really scared me. I’d read some James Herbert already (I would have been about twelve or thirteen), but although I could work up a twinge, nothing really frightened me until I read that book. Somehow, everything fell into place and I was in that delicious space with good horror where you are terrified but enjoying it all at the same time.
Jago doesn’t do that. I didn’t get any twinges of terror from it at all. I’m not sure if I was supposed to feel terrified, horrified, aroused, or what. It started off in one direction, then moved off onto another, then there were a few hundred pages of all kinds of sex in the middle (mostly weird, cult sex), before the apocalypse at the end.
The story revolves around the Somerset village of Alder, and opens with a scene from the late 1800s of the whole place having fallen into a religious millennial cult, burning all their possessions in a field and then submitting to an orgy because hey, they’re the Chosen Ones and it’s OK because it’s the end of the world. As with all such cults, the end of the world failed to happen. The reader is spared the stories of embarrassed parishioners on the day after.
After this, the book takes an extended journey through the lives of various participants in the story. It’s good prose, steady and as sultry as the heat. It builds slowly, as weirder events begin to add together. At one point, we see a reference back to the prologue, and it’s clearly there in the millennial death cult building up around the unseen Jago himself, but it feels very detached from the rest of the story.
Jago is a fanatical Christian obsessed with the end times. He also thinks he’s Jesus and that the apocalypse is about to unfold around him. This would all be fine, except that he’s a psychic with incredible mental powers and could actually make his vision come true, at least in some sense. What happens in Alder isn’t so much The Book of Revelation as one repressed man’s overdose of sex.
For a time, in the middle of the book, it was chapter after chapter of weird sex. You can imagine what Jago was getting up to with his ‘Sister-Loves’, but it’s not just that. There’s people shagging ghosts, people shagging the earth, a sort of low-rent biker Jago taking over another hippy cult with ensuing rape, the first incidence of tree rape since The Evil Dead. All in all, there’s a lot of sex, rape, and penis.
Much, much penis. It makes an Amnesia game feel relatively light on the schlong.
And in the end it turned into a “guy who wasn’t sure if he really loved his girlfriend saves girlfriend from evil Not-Jesus”. But it took a long time to get there. A very long time. I think by the time I reached 500 pages I was starting to skip sections. I lost interest in some sections, and felt that the story had lost itself in describing endless coupling with occasional violence. Lars von Trier does the apocalypse, so to speak.
I kept reading but really wanted it to end. Having developed a lot of characters and put in a lot of history, it took a very long time to finish. And given that most of it is sex or rape or detailed descriptions of penis, everything I write here now feels like a double entendre. Rather as I felt with Cronin’s The Passage, it’s the kind of book where afterward you really want to not read for a bit, just to recover.