Shiny Shelf

Being Human: The Road

By Steffan Alun on 20 April 2010

As a fan of ‘Being Human’, BBC3’s post-watershed horror drama about a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house in Bristol, the first question that came to mind as I read ‘The Road’ – the first of three tie-in novels – was, “who is the target audience for this book?”.

It seems odd that the novel has far more in common with the tone and content of the current ‘Doctor Who’ tie-ins than those for the post-watershed ‘Torchwood’.

Even if we’re to assume ‘Being Human’ has a huge following among children, would they not prefer novels that match the show’s content? As it is, the one element in the novel that could be considered adult – the gay parenting support group – is played very safe indeed, a source of comedy situations for neurotic George and a simple ‘gay parents face a lot of problems’ moral.

That issue aside, ‘The Road’ lacked an essential ingredient of the series – the bond between the characters, and the safety of their home, helping them resist threats from the outside world.

The story begins when a middle-aged ghost named Gemma appears in their home, and much of the story is based around them trying to cope with the burden of this woman.

For a long time, Gemma seems ill-defined, and I found it difficult to see her role in the house dynamic. By the final third of the book, she seems to have a far more specific role, making the story far more engaging.

In the series, supernatural elements represent real-world problems – Mitchell’s vampirism is often portrayed as an addiction, for instance. Gemma’s visit, by contrast, doesn’t seem connected to real-life dilemmas in the same way – they don’t know her, so she’s not like an intruding aunt, and they didn’t invite her, so she’s not a lodger outstaying her welcome. This made it difficult to sympathise with the characters.

We learn that Gemma’s son killed himself, and a road is to be built through his home. There’s a mystery to be solved, and the main characters must delay the building of the road as they learn more. Sadly, ’solving the plot’ is the only motivation for the central characters. They recruit a gang of activists to delay the building of the road – characters who are sketchy at best – and the plot moves along tediously.

When the solution to the mystery comes, it’s relatively satisfying, and it’s clear that’s all the book was ever aiming to be.

The Road’ is meant to be a quick read – but without making good use of the characters, or matching the tone of the series, it’s unlikely to impress fans. That could be problematic for the range in general – the novel ends on a cliffhanger, leading directly into the following novel. It’s a tactic which suggests the publishers expect readers to buy every single novel, and starting with such a lightweight book may put some readers off the whole range.

A minor footnote, too – I found the depiction of Mitchell unnervingly misogynistic. When female characters are introduced from his perspective, there’s always some comment on their bodies or potential sexual behaviour, which left a very bad taste in my mouth.

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