Touted as ‘Lemony Snicket meets Dorian Gray,’ and already snapped up by Warner Bros, there’s a real bookish buzz around The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips. It is the macabre tale of Ebenezer Tweezer, a vain and frankly immoral 511-year-old gentleman, who has the glowing appearance and spring in his step of a young man. In true Wildean style, Ebenezer has entered a pact which guarantees him eternal youth. In exchange, he has to tend to something rather beastly in the attic, something evil, greedy, and potentially child-munching.
In Ebenezer’s attic, there resides an actual real-life beast. One with three black eyes, two black tongues, and a figure best described as being greyish and blobbish. In order for Ebenezer to retain his golden features and eyes that dazzle ‘like diamonds in the moonlight,’ he must supply the beast with a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. In the early days, the beast’s appetite could be assuaged with fine meats and titbits but inevitably, as the centuries rolled by, his jaded palate began to crave more exclusive treats, including Ebenezer’s pet cat, the world’s last remaining dodo, and now, shockingly, the ‘chubby cheeks, dirty fingernails, and nit-ridden hair’ of a human child.
Although Ebenezer has the basic decency to believe that there’s something rather impolite about dining on minors, his outrageous narcissism wins through and he sets off to London Zoo, surely an ‘all-you-can-eat buffet’ of visiting youngsters.
Infuriatingly foiled by the presence of ‘ever-lurking’ parents sabotaging his plans, a dejected Ebenezer eventually alights on the local orphanage where he discovers the unloved, unpleasant, and sure to be unmissed, Bethany. Theoretically she is the perfect specimen, but in actuality, Bethany is about to detonate a bomb under Ebenezer’s ‘charmed, wrinkle-free’ life and his unexamined conscience.
I thoroughly enjoyed this mischievous gothic pastiche. Wittily illustrated and packed with ghastly goings on, it’s a real treat for fans of Lemony Snicket, and Roald Dahl’s darker imaginings.
The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips is published by Egmont, 256 pages.