A creepy page-turner, A Good and Happy Child weaves together a troubled man’s past and present in an effort to understand why he has rejected his newborn son. The protagonist George Davies, on the request of his therapist, writes a number of journals detailing the shocking childhood events surrounding the death of his own father many years previously. As the journals progress, it becomes clear to the reader that Evans has not written an ordinary tale of grief and loss, but a supernatural horror laced with demonic possession, poltergeist activity, and a mysterious murder. The reader is left to decide whether George’s journals reveal the delusions of a troubled child, or something deeper and darker.
A Good and Happy Child is a gripping book. Evans’s writing technique is deceptively simple and incredibly readable; his style allows for an exploration of classic horror themes without seeming clichéd or predictable. Particularly inventive is the author’s description of the void-land in which young George’s ‘Friend’ takes him early on in their sinister relationship, a place “warm and buoyant, gray and thick” in which human souls are displayed as light windows on a giant battleship. Evans uses this descriptive skill to encapsulate childish fear and easily convinces the reader of the youth of the narrator, his unreliability, and his impressionable nature. Young George is well-written as a character needing pity, help, and protection from himself, his well-meaning adult friends, or from otherworldly influence, and the tragic nature of this character is increased when it becomes clear he receives nothing. A good character in a sea of less good characters, young George shines and becomes a beacon for the neglect of troubled children and the damage mismanagement of delusions and demons can do.
However, there were flaws. Undeniably a readable book, Evans has created a rather one-dimensional page-turner. There is a distinct lack of sub-plot, and the brilliantly written young George is overshadowed by a cast of stock characters: the hippie, spiritual psychoanalyst, the academic feminist, and the homosexual arts professor spilling quotes. The other characters, particularly George’s mother and her partner Kurt, are left without a level of depth that would have made the novel richer. In addition, the supernatural scenes lacked punch and only the final image of the ‘demon’ created anything really spine-chilling. For a book heralded as “Incredibly scary and unnerving…” (Brad Meltzer), it fails to deliver much that was truly frightening.
Overall, despite the novel’s flaws, A Good and Happy Child is an enjoyable read. If you are looking for a truly scary supernatural horror story, it would be best to avoid Evans’s novel. However, if you want something readable, well-written, and with plenty of room for audience interpretation, A Good and Happy Child may just be for you.