It is sixteen year old Jeffrey Markham’s first time away from home and for the very first time in his life he is utterly alone. As nervous as he is at this prospect there are things that bother him more in life. One such thing is Kim, a friend only Jeffrey can see.
Kim is a little troll of a creature, mischievous and sinister certainly but Jeffrey has grown attached to him over the ten years Kim has shared his life. Unfortunately Jeffrey has no idea quite how attached to him Kim has become until he tries to break away and create his own life. Separation can be a painful process, especially when an invisible troll has its talon wrapped around your heart.
The Companion was published late October 1983 and it must have been not too long after that I read it for the first time. I lived at the time on a long street that curved around on itself and, at its one far end stood a little cluster of shops. It was in one of these that I bought two of the Dark Forces books: The Companion and Unnatural Talent. I remember that is was summer so I imagine this to be sometime mid-1984 which was a magical year that brought us many of the movie’s that many of my generation remember to this day.
So I would not be too disheartened to find that a second reading of this book so many years (and experiences) later would leave me feeling somewhat underwhelmed – if this had been the case.
Instead I found the opposite to be true.
Jeffreys story unfolds with real simplicity, foregoing all the plot gymnastics that often go along with pulp story telling; especially those aimed at a young audience. There is little attempt to deliver the pyrotechnic flourishes that normally keeps the audience involved. The writer, Scott Siegel, instead constructs a well drawn character driven story that centres around Jeffreys need to build a support structure in lieu of Kim’s absence.
Reading The Companion as a forty-one year old I would never have guessed how vividly The Companion would have remained with me, I did not realise this until I started re-reading the short novel a few nights ago, almost thirty years since I had read it for the first time. The opening dialogue I remembered word for word and as the story unfolded so much of it struck me with a familiarity that took me by genuine surprise.
Jeffreys relationship with the demonic Kim could be seen as a analogy for many things. It could be seen as an addiction of sorts, or a young man’s desire to keep to the straight-and-narrow against the influences of his friends. I did not see it in this way during that summer of ’84 of course, I was only thirteen at the time, but what I did take from the novel was something that felt unique to me. I suppose this is the ultimate accolade an author can ask for, that his audience feels the story was written for them alone.
Second time around I found I saw much more in the book than I’d anticipated. Under its basic plot was a surprisingly sophisticated use of character. This is not to say that Scott Siegel created some under appreciated work of art, but it is to say that the stories central themes of loneliness and need for acceptance are a far cry from what may be expected from such a book. If I were to level some criticism at The Companion it would be that it seems clear that the stories characters and themes feel as though they want to break free of the rather meagre 140 odd pages. In fact the end is rather abrupt and is not a completely fulfilling conclusion to such a story, it almost feels as though the final fifty pages were torn out to keep to the publishers required length.
The Companion was as different a book in quality from The Game (the previous book in the Dark Forces series I reviewed) as could be expected. Author Scott Siegel did an admirable job within obviously rather tight constraints and reading his work these thirty years on left me with an odd mixture of nostalgia and sorrow; nostalgia to that world of youth lost to me and sorrow for the boy who endured it all at the time.
The next book in the Dark Forces series I intend to read is another book I did not read as a youth, The Doll by Rex Sparger. It appears that this next book is one that many remember with great affection and many say it contains some of the creepier examples of the Dark Forces stories, so I look forward to experiencing it.
Until next time…
Mass Market Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 21st 1983 by Bantam