Kingdom by Russ Litten

Publisher and release date: Wrecking Ball Press (2015)

Kingdom is a grounded book about a man turned ghost. In this novel, Russ Litten approaches the ghost story in a unique manner. He shows readers the possible sensations, situations and mental strains that can come from becoming invisible and forgetting everything about who you are.

Kingdom opens in Her Majesty’s Prison. It is an exciting introduction into the world of the story due to the setting and how Alistair Kingdom’s rebellious nature is shown, so much so that it is easy to then read Kingdom and be fuelled by nothing more than the anticipation of returning to the antics of the prison. Following this introduction is Part One, where Alistair is in the Separation and Care Unit and informing the listener about the events that have led to him being at the prison. This is where the novel begins and where the reader becomes familiar with Alistair’s voice. When Alistair says his name for the first time, it becomes clear that the protagonist will be a strong one. His voice is assertive and his causality makes much of his experience humorous. Once Alistair goes into his “birth” as a ghost, a constant stream of creative descriptions are given. This stretches on for some time, and the fascination caused by the opening section does wither, but the same feeling is rekindled slightly when Litten reaches the point where Alistair starts to tell the listener how he began to build a picture as to what had happened to him.

Litten delves deeply into Alistair’s experiences. The reader is able to feel the distance Alistair has from reality, such as how quiet it is for him, a detail that makes for immersive reading once the sound of the world starts to become louder and Alistair can hear music again. Moments like this are important in the book as Alistair is constantly trying to regain control of things in the story, and this is the strongest theme in Kingdom. Alistair doesn’t just want to regain control of his influence in the physical world but also in the life of others. In particular the family he spends much time with in the book. As Alistair watches the family interact, he finds it harder and harder to do nothing and becomes desperate to interfere in a situation where the people who are living it don’t know he exists. His desire to also find out who he is eventually leaves a bitter taste in the reader’s mouth as the consequences of his actions reveals a selfish side to him that cannot be ignored. This makes the character even more realistic as well as his state as a ghost.

From when Alistair realises what he is, such as his ability to pass through people and how animals and children can notice him, Litten’s ideas about how it would be to be a ghost feel real, and he adds very tender moments to Alistair’s journey, such as when he sees a group of children who he thinks may be his. The things Alistair comes across as a ghost are strange and wild, and Litten makes these events feel authentic. A few examples of this are the moment he meets June, which is delicate and warming, the instance he realises what he looks like, which is a cause for laughter, and when he watches a woman give birth, which is an unforgettable part of the book. Alistair’s self awareness despite his lack of understanding of things makes the character distinct. His state causes him to become philosophical, which is to be expected given his condition, but features like this are some of the book’s lasting moments.

Russ Litten has a knack for humour and an imagination that he is able to share with readers without there being any confusion in transmission. There is plenty of hilarity in Alistair’s eavesdropping, such as when he listens to Gemma’s jokes about weight. The amount of time Litten spends on Alistair’s senses can become overwhelming, but the nuances, such as how important smell is, are evidence of how much thought Litten has paid to Alistair’s predicament.

Kingdom opens and ends well, and what occurs in the middle explains what comes before and after. Litten’s attention to detail and creativity are mostly what make Kingdom successful. There are long moments in the book where the author maybe could have done more with the character and spent less time on their sensations, but the novel Kingdom is about that and still works thanks to Litten exploring his ideas to the fullest.

  • Buy the book: Wrecking Ball Press
  • Favourite quote: “Tell you bud, if the police could mobilize a ghost division, they’d crack crime within a fortnight. Nationwide swoops in the dead of night. No need for a battering ram.”

Russ Litten | WebsiteTwitter

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