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The Wish List

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

In Brief: Quirky take on the afterlife. Amusing in many places and sympathetic treatment of an old man trying to right the wrongs of his life. Probably rather dubious theologically. (But who knows?)

Cover of The Wish List

Author: Eoin Colfer

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 2000

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Heaven / Hell / Ireland

Genres:  HumorousThought-provoking


Characters:

  • Meg is a 14-year-old whose mother's death has left her in the care of her slovenly stepfather Franco. She dies committing a burglary and is caught between Heaven and Hell.
  • Belcher Brennan is a 16-year-old delinquent with a vicious dog whose attempt to shoot Meg makes a gas tank explode, causing their deaths and his descent to hell, his remains mixed with those of his dog.
  • Louie McCall is an elderly man whose flat is burgled by Meg and Belcher. He wants to spend the last part of his life doing the few things he regrets not doing.
  • St Peter, keeper of the gates of Heaven, determines your entry by using a balance sheet of good and bad deeds.
  • Beezlebub is a Senior Executive Demon and Satan's right-hand man. He wheels and deals with St Peter over souls coming their way.

Synopsis:

Meg and Belcher are both killed as they argue about letting an old man bleed to death whose flat they've tried to burgle. Belcher goes straight to hell, mixed up with his dog by the gas explosion that killed them, while Meg is caught between Heaven & Hell because her attempts to save the old man exactly counterbalance her previous misdemeanours.

To sway the balance, Meg is sent back to gain Heavenly Brownie points, while Beezlebub secretly sends Belcher to tip Meg's balance in Hell's favour. Meg finds herself helping Louie to fulfil his Wish List — the things he regrets not doing — in the last six months of his life.

Notes:

General: The book has the author's hallmarks: a human protagonist who is a mixture of evil actions and good intentions; a supernatural world with a modern-day technological twist to it; and a youthful humour ranging from sarcastic to slapstick. The reader is engaged readily enough; it's easy to identify with Meg, the girl caught between Heaven & Hell who finds herself possessed of slightly supernatural powers. Louie is the disgruntled old man with a good heart. The techno-Hell aspect of the story appeals less, perhaps because it's harder to feel any real sympathy for its inhabitants.

Heaven & Hell: these feature large in the story line, although it is possible to conceive of a story with equivalent premises but which has, for example, an magistrate's court sentencing Meg to Community Service, and Belcher trying for his revenge. The author's portrayal of the afterlife is obviously a slightly comic book one, with St Peter and Beelzebub in touch by mobile phone, Satan awaiting a coachload of lawyers, etc. All this can be taken tongue-in-cheek, although it can also be seen to cheapen or even dismiss any true picture of the afterlife which you might wish children to have. The one crucial aspect is the entry requirements for Heaven or for Hell. The author has it that you qualify for one or the other according to the cumulative effects of your good deeds or misdeeds, regardless of your circumstances at death.

Good & Evil: Obviously tying in with the concepts of Heaven & Hell used in the book, Good and Evil have a rather sentimental air. When Louie finds a lost love and gives her the kiss he regretted not giving her 50 years before, the aura of “100% pure love” is strong enough to knock Belcher back into Hell temporarily. Louie's other deeds include kicking a football over the bar at the national stadium, which involves breaking in and sabotaging the security equipment.

Sunday 4th April 2004