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Glenn Patterson: Black Night at Big Thunder Mountain

There is no doubt what the defining moment in Sam’s life was. A boy at school – Calvin – was to be taken to Disneyland by his parents after his brother died and he had been told he could bring a friend. For reasons Sam is unable to explain – the two boys had barely spoken – Sam is selected. The result is that he becomes a determined Disneyphile. Thus, when Eurodisney is being built, Sam eagerly applies and is accepted. He loves his work and, despite the drugs and a few low life friends, is getting on well. Two defining moments happen. Firstly, he meets a Disney reject – Oswald the Rabbit who tells him about Mortimer Mouse, the mouse that should have been. (Mortimer was the name Walt Disney originally chose but Mrs. Disney preferred Mickey.) Then he sees an African employee of Disney being shouted at by a foreman. He attacks the foreman and then has to run away. The drugs and these events get to him and he kidnaps two Disney employees, holding them hostage in the not yet finished Big Thunder Mountain.

Most of the novel is the early life of Sam and his two hostages. Ilse is a German waitress whose defining moment was a bad love affair with a violent American. Raymond is from Belfast and he foolishly agreed to drive two friends who were going to kill a Catholic, even though he could barely drive. They have a car crash on the way and one of the friends is shot by the police, while Raymond and the other friend are arrested and jailed. But the whole novel seems a little bit unfocused. Are we concerned with the Disney legend or Sam’s psychological nature? Is it the drugs or his hippie parents? Is the relationship between kidnapper and kidnapped the main theme or the relationship between the killing in Northern Ireland and Sam’s fake attempt to blow Big Thunder Mountain? And is there a connection between Ilse’s Berlin, Sam’s LA and Raymond’s Belfast? It’s an unusual theme to treat but I just had the feeling that it read more like a first draft than a finished novel.

Publishing history

First published in 1995 by Chatto and Windus