In the nineties, one of my favourite 'guilty pleasure' authors was Christopher Pike. Unlike many of my friends, I was never really a fan of his The Last Vampire series, but I did read several of his other novels that have stayed with me ever since. Top of this list is The Midnight Club, a book about a group of teenagers who are all dying. They're residents of the Rotterham Hospice for sufferers of terminal cancer, aged between seventeen and nineteen. To escape from their pain and isolation, they form the Midnight Club, meeting each night to tell each other stories. They begin to speculate about life after death, and promise each other that the first one to die will give the others a sign.
The first time round, The Midnight Club made a big impression on me. I hadn't read many stories about teens suffering from terminal illnesses, so my understanding of the subject was pretty much all drawn from the experiences of Melissa in Too Young to Die by Lurlene McDaniel. In all honesty, I'm sure I initially picked up The Midnight Club thinking that it would have an entirely supernatural focus, but the issue of life after death is really just a small part of the book. It's also a story about what it's like to face the knowledge that you have only days to live, and about storytelling itself.
On my reread this week, I was impressed by the way that Pike conveys main character Ilonka's desperation, denial and eventual acceptance without ever sensationalising her experience or resorting to cheap sentimentality. He manages to capture a sense of the way a person gradually says goodbye to the world of the living that's quite definitely about their journey rather than those they're leaving behind.
Then there's the Midnight Club itself. The stories-within-the-story that the members tell each other are vivid and dark, and lend the book a certain lingering ambiguity. There are stories of pain and regret, of actions taken in anger and of lessons learnt. And for Ilonka, there are also stories about the past lives she thinks she remembers. Though I've found myself dwelling on some of them a few days after rereading the book, I can't say I'm exactly sure what they all mean or how they fit together.
But my favourite aspect of The Midnight Club is the romance between Ilonka and fellow club member Kevin. Made all the more poignant by the fact that Pike's real name is Kevin, it's a story of a love that may be doomed and short-lived... or may be destined to last forever.
Verdict: The Midnight Club is not a great literary work by any means, but it does hold a strange power that's hard to define. It's comforting and haunting in equal measure. Fans of Christopher Pike will want to give this one a look.