Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jeremy Visick by David Wiseman

Twelve year-old Matthew Clemens, who cares more for rugby than history, gives little thought to his school project on mining accidents. That is, until he becomes drawn to a lichen-covered tombstone hidden in the corner of the village churchyard. Three Visick men, a father and two sons, are buried there. But there is a fourth whose death is memorialized on the tombstone in eroded lettering that only Matthew can decipher:

and to Jeremy Visick, his son,
aged 12 years, whose body still lies
in Wheal Maid.

"Wheal" is the Cornish word for mine*, and in this book, Matthew and the reader are led on a tour of mid-nineteenth century Cornish copper mines that is equal parts realist and spectral. Matthew realizes that, had he been born a few generations earlier, Jeremy Visick's fate would have been his own. To the consternation of his mother, the usually rowdy Matthew becomes withdrawn and loses his appetite. He starts sleepwalking - to the little cottage shared by the Visick family before tragedy struck, to their tombstone, and later, to the long-abandoned mine-shaft where Jeremy Visick is still interred.

What unfolds is a standard ghost story. The ghost of a boy, trapped at the site of his tragic death for more than a hundred years, reaches out to his modern day counterpart so that his remains might be finally reunited with those of his family. But if the plot is standard, the telling is nothing short of excellent. The author David Wiseman, a native of Cornwall, uses the Cornish setting to full advantage. Against the backdrop of Matthew's routine schoolboy existence, each intrusion of the supernatural sends chills down one's spine. The landscape Matthew wanders through, trancelike, is at once bucolic and foreboding, for concealed beneath its surface are not only veins of precious ore but the crushed bones of fallen youth. A nicely-conceived ghost story, well worth reading.
* A glossary of Cornish mining terms. Not necessary for following Jeremy Visick, but useful for elucidating the occasional mining term.

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