‘After the war, after he was out, Martin Heath did almost nothing for several months. He was still young but his dreams – nocturnal and diurnal – belonged to an older man, a man much damaged and long steeped in blood. Death operated the film projector inside his head’
– Mr Godley’s Phantom
[ About the Book ]
The year is 1945 and Martin Heath has returned from the war a changed man; broken and struggling to settle. So when an old comrade suggests a new life, working in the remote wilds of Dartmoor, he takes it.
But his new employer, an old man who frightens and fascinates him in equal measure, has demons too. Demons that re-awaken Martin’s own, and there is a price he must pay to escape them.
[ My Thoughts ]
Mr Godley’s Phantom is the posthumously published novel from award winning writer Mal Peet. With it’s very eye-catching cover, this edition was recently published on 1st August with David Fickling Books. Mal Peet lived to complete it, but not to see it published as he sadly passed away in 2015.
Described as ‘part ghost story, part crime thriller and part something else entirely….beautifully written and deeply satisfying’, it is the final novel from this most well-respected of writers. A book that has garnered enormous praise across the literary world, the Literary Review called it ‘a thrilling study of pain, grief and evil, with the mechanics of a murder mystery powering it’s plot.‘ The Guardian described it as ‘a profound, elegant novel that achieves greatness by creating its own, self-regulating world in which ordinary logic does not apply – a dreamworld, if you like, but no less real for that.‘
Mal Peet takes us deep into the troubled mind. Martin Heath is a soldier returned from the Front. Traumatised by his experiences, Martin is unable to handle the reality of life back home. He attempts to continue his education at Cambridge but with his erratic behaviour and lack of hope, he bails out after three terms. Martin Heath is lost, a man haunted by the memories of the atrocities he witnessed, the dead bodies and walking skeletons of the Belsen camp.
‘The projector whirred. The images flickered, steadied. He could not stop them….The silent skeletons, who yet moved on legs of bone, walking towards him, slow as dreamers but all eyes. The others, heaped, skulls muddled with shin bones, claws, shrunken genitals. Shit and slurry and decomposition. Martin had felt neither rage nor even revulsion. Rather, it was like discovering that he had contracted an incurable disease; that and having inhaled the miasma of death, he could never be well again…’
An unexpected opportunity lands on Martin’s lap when he receives a letter from an old army colleague. There is a ‘handy-man’ position available on an remote estate in the Dartmoor wilds. Martin, initially unsure, decides to check out the possibility of escaping to this isolated place and after a meeting with Mr Godley, his potential employer and owner of Burra Hall, Martin makes a decision that will change his life forever.
Mr Godley is the owner of a Rolls Royce Phantom Three Sedanca de Ville. One of Martin’s many odd jobs will be as chauffeur to Mr Godley, sitting behind the wheel of this powerful beast, driving across the countryside as requested by his employer. Martin is in awe of this beautiful machine and relishes the opportunity to journey in such an impressive car. After accepting his new position, Martin settles into life at Burra Hall, hoping to finally push his past further away and to live a life worth living, but can he?
A strange relationship develops between Martin and Mr Godley. Both have ghosts in their lives, both are damaged men, struggling to survive in the aftermath of trauma and sadness.
Mal Peet’s writing has been described as cinematic but I truly feel that an on-stage production would be where Mr Godley’s Phantom would come into it’s own. With a touch of Agatha Christie in both it’s setting and telling, this novel, though short, packs quite a literary punch. There is an underlying philosophical theme running through the story about our lives and how we choose to live them.
Mal Peet tackles many themes, including that of post traumatic stress and mental health, all set against the isolation of the Devon moors and the desolation of Burra Hall’s surroundings. Combining these elements with a mystery, a ghost story and a possible crime, Mr Godley’s Phantom is a multi-layered tale with very engaging characters. A perceptive and intelligent tale, a reflective piece of work.
[ Bio ]
Mal Peet wrote eight novels, of which this is the last.
Mal Peet’s first novel, Keeper, won the Branford Boase Award and the Bronze Nestle Children’s Book Award; Tamar won the Carnegie Medal; and Exposure was the 2009 winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.
Mal Peet died in 2015 and is sorely missed by everyone who knew him and everyone who read him.