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The Fire-Eaters by David Almond

The Fire-Eaters (2003)

by David Almond

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Since I have read Skellig and Mina by David Almond, I was looking forward to reading this book. I liked some aspects of the book but felt it never really tied all the different story lines together. The story is about a teenage boy growing up in a mining town. His family is considered working class but Bobby is offered the opportunity to attend a more advanced school which may offer him other opportunities although he is content with his family, friends, and station in life at the moment. There is the undercurrent of darkness and danger from a possible nuclear event between the U.S. and Cuba/Russia and he worries about his father's health. It is definitely geared towards high school students rather than middle or lower school students. Maybe that's why I didn't like it as much as other books by Almond. ( )
  SuPendleton | Jun 14, 2014 |
Unabridged version read by the author.

This was a cleverly written book, with several themes weaving themselves in and out of the narrative.
The Fire Eater, of the title, is also an escapologist and war veteran. He makes his living as a street performer, dealing with his demons from the war by inflicting pain on himself. Meanwhile the whole of the Western world is consumed by fear of the War ships steaming towards Cuba in a showdown with the Russians (1962). Again the theme of fire haunts the reader, this time from nuclear explosion.

Closer to home, Bobby Burns spends time on his East Coast beach, trying to retain a normal life amongst the adults' tensions. When he joins the local Grammar School he finds the severe (excessive) discipline daunting. Meanwhile, his father seems to be suffering from some mysterious illness and no-one will let Bobby know what is happening. His two close friends, Ailsa and Jimmy keep him sane and the new boy from The South, Daniel, often helps him see things in a different light.

The characters were wonderful and the descriptions of the coastal world teemed with life. I had never heard of sea coal, which Ailsa and her family dragged from the sea for a living.
My only complaint about this book would be the excessive violence exhibited by the Fire Eater on himself, the thought of a skewer through from one cheek to the other made me cringe and could be quite upsetting for a sesitive child.
I was lucky enough to have the unabridged audio version, read by David Almond himself, although he has a very thick Northern accent that was a bit hard to comprehend at times. I am keeping my copy for another listen in the future and I will definitely look out for more by this author. ( )
  DubaiReader | Feb 26, 2012 |
This was one of the best books I read last year. There are a couple of intertwined themes here all set in the background of a working class family in the Durham coalfields.

The protagonist passes the 11 plus and is thus accepted into a grammar school, where he is nevertheless subjected -along with other children there - to daily cruelty, and ingrained prejudices, which during the novel, and through a friendship, he gains the power to overcome.

At the same time there is a theme with a character - McNulty - of mental illness, as well as the strains on the family under the threat of a life threatening illness - all set against the fear of approaching apocalypse in the cuban missile crisis.

There is so much in this book, it cannot be described - it has to be read. And Reading is not a chore, because David Almond is such a good writer. His prose is simple, but still manages to be vivid and engaging.

This is a book to read and ponder. Highly recommended. ( )
  sirfurboy | Apr 26, 2009 |
While I usually really like David Almond's books, this one doesn't seem to quite hit the mark. The boy in this book, Bobby, lives on a rural beach in England, where he has friends who are lower class (a coal-miner's daughter and a friend who does not go to school at 13). But Bobby has been accepted to the local Catholic school, and there are great plans for him. That is until the Cuban Missile Crisis turns everything upside down. At the same time, Bobby and his mom come across a fire-eater, McNulty, in the marketplace. It turns out that Bobby's dad served with McNulty and that McNulty is not quite right in the head. I think this book does not have a clear audience, unlike Almond's other books. While it is historical fiction, it calls the reader to understand something about mental illness, about growing up, and life in the middle class which they may not understand until they are older. Also, most of the British slang is fairly understandable, but not defined in the context nor in a glossary. ( )
  59Square | Jan 26, 2009 |
This one is set in a sleepy, off the beaten path, coal town near New Castle, England. As usual, Almond writes of coming of age experiences with a cast of characters both soft and hard, gritty and kind.

As the United States and The Soviet Union prepare for potential nuclear disaster during the Cuban missile crisis, Bobby Burns witnesses McNulty, a fire breathing illusionist, carnival-like man who, as the story progresses, symbolically represents destruction and the power of fire to charm, and harm!

As the world approaches disaster, Bobby's father, who is mysteriously ill, is a survivor of WWII and knows all too well the terrors of war. Bobby and his friends and family find a way to believe in miracles that have the power to heal.

As in his book Skelling, Almond weaves a motley group of characters who, through reaching out to the unknown and different, find the power of love and redemption. ( )
  Whisper1 | Jan 23, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440420121, Paperback)

Continuing his tradition of strange and wild novels for young adults, David Almond, in The Fire Eaters, introduces a bizarre character making a sparse living as a self-mutilating, fire-swallowing street performer. McNulty's existence shakes young protagonist Bobby Burns to the core as he contemplates the end of the world (the year is 1962 and the U.S. and Soviet Union seem to be heading toward nuclear war), power, pain, class, and death, as well as friendship. The menace and sweetness in Bobby's life parallels the worlds, big and small, he inhabits. A loving family, seaside home, and good friends form the foundation. But a crack in that wall is spreading: Bobby's father is ill, class differences are separating him from his best friend, and a ruthless schoolmaster is forcing Bobby to understand that everything has a price. McNulty's growled refrain--"Pay! You'll not see nowt till you pay!"--reiterates the lesson for the often bewildered, but ever stronger boy. Readers familiar with Almond's other haunting books, including the award-winning Skellig, will welcome this rich, challenging novel. As always, Almond refuses to shy away from the big topics, resulting in a novel dappled with light and dark, filled with wonder and mystery. (Ages 12 and older) --Emilie Coulter

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In 1962 England, despite observing his father's illness and the suffering of the fire-eating Mr. McNulty, as well as enduring abuse at school the the stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bobby Burns and his family and friends still find reasons to rejoice in their lives and to have hope for the future.… (more)

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