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George Davies has a problem: he can t bring himself to hold his newborn son. Desperate to save his dwindling marriage and redeem himself as a father and husband, George visits a therapist and begins to delve into the childhood memories that may be the root of his issues. Ten-year-old George, in the wake of his father s harrowing and unexpected death, is experiencing ominous visions some friendly, others outright terrifying. Unable to control those visions, George starts to display erratic behaviour and eventually becomes violent. When a mysterious murder is ultimately revealed, the stakes are…
About the Book
George Davies has a problem: he can t bring himself to hold his newborn son. Desperate to save his dwindling marriage and redeem himself as a father and husband, George visits a therapist and begins to delve into the childhood memories that may be the root of his issues. Ten-year-old George, in the wake of his father s harrowing and unexpected death, is experiencing ominous visions some friendly, others outright terrifying. Unable to control those visions, George starts to display erratic behaviour and eventually becomes violent. When a mysterious murder is ultimately revealed, the stakes are suddenly much higher for him and his family. Are the visions just the product of a grief-stricken child s overactive imagination? Symptoms of mental illness? Or is ten-year-old George possessed by a darker, more malevolent force?top
Justin Evans interview/review
- What was your inspiration for A Good and Happy Child ?
I had written a very bad spy thriller in my spare time and only after a great deal of wasted effort did a little voice say to me, “Um, do you actually know anything about spies? You really should follow the rules—write what you know.”
I was in business school at the time and the school newspaper was desperate for copy. I started forcing myself to write very personal essays—about past girlfriends, about my interest in the supernatural. Thank goodness no one actually reads a business school newspaper. It was a way of getting into a groove of being more personal and intense in my writing. Then this novel emerged…
As a child I had a recurring nightmare about a scruffy doppleganger which stared in at me from the trees. That memory, and many others, all went into the soup.
- Do you believe in demons and the supernatural?
I do. I also don’t regard it as a big deal. I believe in God, which is a good start, I go to church like the average person, which is to say I scrape it together infrequently and then feel guilty about it in between. But I also grew up with a close friend whose house was haunted, and heard many other similar stories from credible sources. Maybe that happens more frequently in the American South. One such story involved a shower door that flung itself backwards and forwards on its traces (a scene in my book). Details of that story which did not make it into the book include dishes that smash themselves in the sink; flowers that leap out of vases.
- Did you find yourself spooked by any of your own writing and research?
I think this book scared me more than anyone who read it. I actually frighten pretty easy. I spent months of my life waking up at 2am and thinking my house was filled with the presence of an evil spirit. I was sure that somehow my writing about demons would “attract” them to my family. I was checking on the kids and making the sign of the cross over them in the dead of night. More than a little hysterical, I now realize. Or, for all any of us know—it was a necessary precaution, which worked!
- Why did you choose to keep George’s condition ambiguous?
The central tension in the book springs from this. I also knew, having read some of the sources for The Exorcist , that there was very little material left over for a story about a pitched battle with a demon. It allowed me to draw the character of the disbelieving, intellectual, modernist mother with more verve, and in a way make her and the doctors into antagonists.
- The idea of using notebooks is an interesting – and unusual – way to reveal George’s story. How did you decide on this writing style?
Notebooks and confessions, as a device, seem very old school to me, and central to the genre. They give the reader a reason, or at least an excuse, to lend their credulity to the story. When writing this, I harked back to my French Lit classes, all the 18th century novels that would start with a preamble about “I found an old manuscript, and have translated it so the public may hear the tale.” Classics of this genre use similar devices— Dracula is all “documents,” The Turn of the Screw is a fireside story, all Sherlock Holmes is a record kept by Watson. It’s a strong way to inject a voice into matters, and put pressure on the story. The third person, by comparison, feels like quite a naked and risky way to launch a narrative.
- We only see two very narrow parts of George’s life. Why did you exclude George’s transition from a disturbed young boy to a frightened father?
In one draft I tried to fill in those gaps, but it never took. Those were George’s lost years. The years he spent trying to learn how to become a human being after the trauma of his youth. Once he became an adult, he realized everything he had accomplished was mimicry—an imitation of how normal people behave. The neurotic inability to hold his child was the clue that he needed to double back, uncover something, in order to truly become a man.
- Did you set out to write a psychological thriller or did it develop out of the material you found?
I wanted to write something with a plot, something that gets the pulse going. But I did not exactly know where it was going. I remember writing that first scene where George meets the spirit, pulling back from the computer, and going “whoa, where did I just go?” I felt like I had gone temporarily insane. A special, and very weird, lobe in my brain became active when writing those scenes.
- Were you influenced by any particular books or films?
I borrow liberally from The Turn of the Screw , especially in the final scene. The Exorcist was of course an inspiration. And the kind of exposition where the monster and its powers are delineated—most of my character Tom Harris’s monologues—are pure Van Helsing.
- A Good and Happy Child is your first book. Have you enjoyed the experience of being published? Are you working on anything else?
Are you kidding? I love the attention. I suppose if I had received more bad reviews, it would have felt like a failure and would have been less fun. But I was fortunate in that way. And for a lifelong bookworm publishing a novel is the corny old “dream come true.” I will always write, whether I will be published or not.top
Starting Points for Discussion
- Was the demon real or a figment of George’s imagination?
- a) The book takes an interesting look at parenthood. Do you think it is possible to raise a ‘good and happy child’? b) Were George’s Mum and Dad good or bad parents?
- What part of the story was most unsettling? Do you think a belief in the supernatural determines if the book scares you?
- How does the language build the suspense and tension in the book?
- To what extent is the book about the gulf between adult awareness and knowledge and childhood innocence?
- Why are mental illness and the supernatural so closely linked in literature and film?
- Before his son is born, George thinks he has a close relationship with his wife but is unable to explain how he feels. Why can’t he express himself to his wife but he can talk to his psychologist?
- Do you think George killed Kurt on purpose or by mistake?
- Tom Harris, Clarissa, and Uncle Freddie, who are deeply religious, believe that George is possessed; while the adults who are not religious believe that George is mentally ill. What role does religion play in dividing opinion in the novel?
- What do you think actually happens at the end of the novel?
Other Books by Justin Evans
A Good and Happy Child
George Davies has a problem: he can t bring himself to hold his newborn son. …
Suggested Further Reading
- The Exorcist ~ William Peter Blatty
- The Secret History ~ Donna Tartt
- Dracula ~ Bram Stoker – read our guide
- The Turn of the Screw ~ Henry James – read our guide
- The Club Dumas ~ Arturo Pérez-Reverte
- The Dante Club ~ Matthew Pearl