THE HAUNTING by Margaret Mahy
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For eight-year-old Barney (short for Barnaby), being haunted begins with that "faint dizzy twist in the world around him, the thin singing drone [in] his ear" . . . then a figure slowly forming out of the air, lamenting in a sort husky voice, "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! I'm going to be very lonely." When Barney learns later that day that great-uncle Barnaby bas just died, he gasps "I thought it was me!" and faints away. But the haunting continues, with footsteps coming nearer and the voice insisting that Barney must go with him. "You should see yourself," says notebook-scribbling older sister Tabitha, a future novelist who chatters incessantly. "You're really starting to look haunted, you know . . . sort of yellowish and transparent like cooking oil, and your eyes are funny." The eyes, Barney too has noticed, are sometimes not his own: He comes to feel "like a coat or jacket his Great-Uncle Cole can put on and off at will." For by then the children have learned from Grandfather Scholar and his brother, Great-Uncle Guy and Great-Uncle Alberic of a fifth brother, Great-Uncle Cole, who vanished from the scene at twelve. New Great-Uncle Guy reveals to a concerned Tabitha that Cole is a magician; that his order-loving mother, the still-imperious Great-Granny, fought and rejected him from his birth; and that Cole is still alive. Guy, a pediatrician, offers Tabitha a valid psychological explanation for Barney's haunting, which manages to strengthen the story without explaining away the haunting: Even Guy himself doesn't really believe it. The confrontation comes when Cole shows up to claim Barney, whom he believes to be a fellow magician--and Troy, the oldest of the children and the silent, reclusive, and "eerily" tidy one, unmasks the repressive Great-Granny as a magician and, in a series of razzle-dazzle transformations, reveals herself as another. (Of her father's reaction, Troy says later, "I can feel him looking at me and--I don't know--shrinking away. . . . He'll never get over it altogether.") You may have guessed her secret early on, or find the magic less impressive once it's out. But Mahy's deftly penetrating and delightfully phrased observations of the family don't slacken. (In the end we have poor Tabitha, crushed that she's turned out to be the only "ordinary" one, but busy interviewing Cole and taking notes on the whole affair.) Most compellingly, Mahy projects the haunting with such imaginative force and seriousness that you'll hear those footsteps and that husky voice as Barney does, just as you see Barney's pale transparent face and strange bruised eyes through Tabitha's watchful ones.
Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1982
ISBN: 0141315830
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1982


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