Arthur Braxton is unloved – his mum left the family, his dad had a breakdown and is barely looking after himself, let alone Arthur, and he gets beaten up and teased at school. All in all, life is pretty crap. On a day skiving from school, he is drawn to explore the abandoned Oracle – an old bathhouse – when he hears a woman singing. Inside, he finds a weird bunch of people but, most importantly, he finds Delphina swimming naked in the pool.
The outside world in Arthur Braxton is bleak. Very bleak. In fact, it rains torrentially the entire way through. In contrast, the Oracle is a magical escape from life for both Arthur and Laurel (who worked there), though there’s always the sense that darkness isn’t lurking too far away. The chapters set in the present-day Oracle are written in the form of a script – which made me think I was inside a Greek tragedy and something bad was bound to happen any moment (even without references to piles of shoes in the corner).
Before starting, I knew it involved re-tellings of Greek myths. My knowledge of Greek mythology is very hazy, so I made up my mind not to think about them so I didn’t spend the whole time looking for them and trying to remember what they were about. Not having those stories swimming around in the background (unintentional pun!) didn’t take anything away from the book, but I think if you do know your myths, it would be like having an extra bonus level of reading goodness.
Arthur Braxton has been called an urban fairy tale – which I think describes it perfectly. Like most fairy tales, you kind of know what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t matter – you want, you must, keep reading. There’s darkness, magic, beauty and truth: everything a good fairy tale needs. I love fantastical stories. They can be hard to do well but, when they are, they somehow feel more true than any ‘realism’. Arthur Braxton is one of those stories.