By Tim Powers
Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers follows the story of siblings, Scott and Madeline, required to stay for a week in their aunt’s house by her recently amended will. Their cousins Claimayne and Ariel, who live in the house are less than pleased by this requirement.
The story has a creepy atmosphere, Scott and Madeline don’t know what is going to happen next or why they have been told to stay there, which keeps the reader guessing also. As the story unfolds it is hard to know who is aiming to help our protagonists and who to is out to exploit them, everyone is keeping their cards close to their chest, trusting nobody and assuming the worst from everyone else. They don’t trust their cousins, their aunt has left cryptic instructions and they are sure they can’t trust her and when Scott’s ex girlfriend turns up, they really know not to trust her.
Eventually, as the characters scheming come to light, you get to see that the stakes on the table are higher than who inherits a crumbling house, but who gets to escape their own body, live forever in other peoples’ lives and who gets to be trapped, powerless and forgotten.
The book explores the theme of addiction, the need to escape your own life even if only for a few moments, the desire to lose accountability for your own actions and let someone else take the blame. It shows the desperate pull of just one more hit for someone who is trying to stay clean and the crashing sense of failure when they slip.
As well as physical addiction the book explores the escapism of the mind, strong themes of films, filmmakers and Hollywood actors represent a more apparently benign escapism. The story is set geographically in the Hollywood area, the flashbacks into history show glamorous characters and when offered a possibility of living back in that time it is tempting to some characters, but the cost could be their life.
The story is told through Scott and Madeline’s experiences as they moves through time, via various means, witnessing or taking part in actions which all influence the current day situation they are in. This jumping about in time can be confusing, but all comes together by the end of the book.
Claimayne is in a wheelchair and jealous of the mobility that his sister and cousins have. It is unfortunate, but perhaps believable, that the only character with a disability allows his situation to make him bitter and resent the options that the able bodied characters have that he feels are denied to him.
The main characters are convincing and have a great depth to their motivations, some of the periphery characters are a little two dimensional and feel like they were added to increase the creep factor by having shadowy organisations and individuals lurking in corners, rather than any need to have these to further the plot.
Overall the book is very readable and the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.
Written on 6th April 2016 by Karen Fishwick .