Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I'm the king of the castle by Susan Hill

This book looks at the cruelty that other children can inflict on each other and goes against the adult thought that if you put two children of the same age together they will always ‘get along’. Of course similar themes were explored in Lord of the Flies, but I’m the King of the Castle takes place under less strenuous circumstances within the confines of the family home.

Edmund is an 11 year old boy who lives alone with his father after the death of his mother some years previous. Because his father is lonely himself and because he worries about his son becoming isolated, he arranges for a live in housekeeper and her 11 year old son Charles to live with them. Edmund is not happy with this arrangement and greets Charles with a note on his arrival stating ‘I didn't want you to come here'. What follows is nothing short of systematic bulling which quickly starts spiralling out of control.

The author has managed to quite accurately describe the feeling of claustrophobia and the menace of the house in which the boys live. The British countryside that surrounds it becomes sinister as the mist rolls in and the only birds around seem to be big black crows. The isolation and fear that Charles's experiences are felt and you despair of his situation just as he does.

Of course you may well be wondering where on earth the parents are in all this and it’s a good question. Well both parents are too busy wrapped up in their own lives and are too busy making eyes at each other to really see what’s going on. If this sounds a little far fetched to you then I’ll refer you to the passage below between Charles and his mother;

'There are plenty of things of things for you to do, I know, plenty of games to play.'
'I want to go out'
'That isn't very thoughtful, is it? Edmund cannot go out. I wonder if you really are so selfish as to forget that?'
'He doesn't want me to stay with him all the time. He doesn't want me at all.'
Don't argue Charles dear, I'm sure you would want some company...you would want to see a friend.'
'He isn't my friend.'
'Perhaps you would like to take up Edmund's drink dear.' For she had decided simply to ignore it, this silly, persistent talk about their not being friends. That was the way boys behaved, it was a phase.

You see how Charles's mother is just not listening to her own child. I’m sure we can all as kids remember moments when our parents ‘didn’t listen’ and throughout the book this is done in a realistic way that you begin to feel Charles's anger and frustration at his situation.

The ending is shocking but I cannot see how it could have ended any other way. Sometimes things like this don’t just ‘blow over’ as the parents in this book seem to think it will.

Would I recommend this? This is not for the faint hearted and it certainly won’t cheer you up but it’s chilling and frighteningly realistic. If you liked the sound of this book then let me refer you to my review of The Children of Dynmouth which was written in the same decade and also looks parental neglect and the cruelty of children.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I have problem reading about children committing atrocities, just because I had two young boys. Not sure I'll be reading this. Might give it a skip.

  2. JoV - Its not for the faint hearted as I said although the boys from Lord of the Flies do far worse in terms of violence. Interestingly though this book is read in schools in the UK for teens.

  3. That has always been something that annoyed me...the idea that children always get along. Adults don't always get along, so why should kids? They're MORE immature, not less.

    Anyway, this sounds like something I'd enjoy. Thanks for the review!

  4. I like the sound of this one, another side to Susan Hill. :-)