By Adele, 18-Nov-2012 16:49:00
This book was lent to me by Yvonne Coppard, a member of the SAS whom a great many of the readers of this blog will know. She said it was funny and interesting and she was quite right. I thought it worth drawing to the attention of ABBA readers because it addresses a problem that a great many people share. The author, an American by birth but a longtime resident of Perth, Western Australia, tells the story of a six-month period when she pulled the plug, as she puts it, on Ipods, Iphones, laptops, computers, games consoles etc....everything that connected her children and herself to the world of the Internet.
Inspired by Thoreau's On Walden Pond she took a decision to go 'screen-free' as an experiment. To see if she, a very wired journalist, and her three teenage children, could survive without the help of the World Wide Web. The short answer is: they could and they did. The long answer is the book itself, which is full of careful research into the effects of being plugged in to such things as Facebook, Twitter IMS etc as well as an account of the daily lives of this family and how they reacted, individually and collectively to being without their precious devices.
If that makes it sound dry and dusty and boring, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a hilarious read at times and Maushart has a wonderful way of turning a witty sentence. She describes a world where everyone is so hooked on their phones, Blackberries etc that the real world has practically disappeared. And Maushart is as bad as her children. Away from her home in the USA, she still, after many years, feels not quite at home in Australia and the internet brought her nearer to people and places she longed for. The family was still able to access the internet at school or college or a cafe... just not at home.
To say the changes wrought in the teenaagers were miraculous would be putting it a bit strongly but the progress she charts in each of her children is amazing. The changes are brought on by having to deal with BOREDOM. It's a salutory lesson to all parents, I think, that being bored and learning how to deal with it leads often to great creativity. We are all, she says, too anxious to ensure that every minute of our children's lives are full of things to do. Maushart's son, for example, moved from being someone who barely exchanged a word with his family and stared at a screen for hours in a day to becoming a whizz on the saxophone and a Haruki Murakami completist. Do give yourselves a treat and read this book. It may very well change your life. The message, though, is one of the oldest in the world: everything in moderation.
Published in hardback by Profile Books. Price: £11.99 ISBN:9781846684647
By Adele, 30-Jul-2012 21:25:00
I'm going to begin this review with an anecdote, but bear with me. In 1994, I published two books in a Longman's reading scheme called The Book Project . Each book contained two poems about cats. They were called 'JOSEPHINE AND POBBLE' and 'MIMI AND APRICOT MAX' and telling these feline stories in verse was some of the most enjoyable writing I've ever done. I was also proud of the poems as poems...there, I've said it. I don't know how many writers will admit to liking their own books, but I'm happy to do so and I think, moreover, that there's a great deal of false modesty about and that most people are actually quite pleased with their own work.
The fact that the books appeared in an educational series meant that no one reviewed them. Not many people know about them, and yet I worked as hard on them as I did on my non-educational books. I think that many writers write very well for publishers whose books are not to be found in most shops, and they therefore have their light hidden, perforce, under a bushel, when it ought to be shining out all over the place.
Next, an admission. Sally Prue, the writer, is a friend of mine. We children's writers are a gregarious lot and I know an awful lot of people whose work I honestly admire and if I were to confine myself to reviewing books by strangers, I'd have very little to write about. And I do want to write about these two books, not because they're by her but because they put paid to the perception that all reading scheme books are boring/unreadable/unstretching of the imagination etc. Pearson in this case, just like Longman's in my case, have had the good idea of asking a real writer to write a proper book for those who still find long, difficult texts a little daunting. These two short stories are part of the very popular Bug Club which teachers will maybe know about but which very few ordinary readers will have come across. The wonderful Love Reading 4Kids website highlights them and I do recommend their site as being a repository of all kinds of good things.
This is a rather long preamble to a discussion of the two stories. They are linked, although each of them can be read alone. They are - and perhaps I ought to have said this before I said anything else - proper historical stories, set at the time of the first Elizabeth and concerning young Edward, son of a glover (yes, just like Shakespeare, for anyone who cares to make the connection) and brother of the indomitable Bridget. He has a Great Aunt Anne and a father and he meets Ned Cobbley in the first book of the two, THE QUEEN'S SPY. Ned Cobbley is a goodie. He looks as though he ought to be a baddie but he isn't. He's funny, and crude and helps Edward in all sorts of ways. The story in this first book revolves around the downfall of a nasty teacher and it's full of humour, good sense, and fun. It's also (and this is the main thing) historically accurate and full of wonderful writing that's elegant without being fussy; humorous without being silly and altogether leads the young reader easily through a story that's so much fun she won't realize how much she's learned about Elizabethan customs and history by the end of the story.
THE VELVET THIEF starts in a a way that will appeal to any lovers of lavatorial humour: with Ned Cobbley cleaning out the jakes. Did you know that this was a word for the pit by the side of a house which caught the toilet droppings? You do now! Great Aunt Anne appears for a visit accompanied by Giles Pettit, who is briliantly named. You just know he's not what he seems and his unmasking by Edward, with help from Ned, is delightful. Along the way there are many incidental pleasures in these books. They are full of slapstick, of people falling over, getting wet, and generally landing in uncomfortable situations but throughout the language is fast and unfussy. While not being in the least 'pish-tushy', the words convey clearly a time that isn't our own. These books could easily lead to more children resding historical fiction, and that's surely a good thing. It's hard to imagine anyone not enjoying these books and if I can get them into the hands of a few more children, then I'll be very pleased.
THE QUEEN'S SPY illustrated by Alan Marks. Pearson Bug Club pbk. (no price printed. Order from email@example.com) ISBN: 9780435076207
THE VELVET THIEF illustrated by Alan Marks Pearson Bug Club pbk as above IBN: 9780435076252
By Adele, 13-Jun-2012 11:47:00
I've recently chaired he Judging Panel for the Lancashire Book of the Year award. This is my sixth year in the job and I keep doing it because it's the most terrific fun. The prize is judged ENTIRELY by Year 9 pupils from Lancashire Schools and our shortlist always presents us with books that are quite different from the Carnegie, Costa and other book awards.
This year, as we moved into our final debate, one girl only had chosen Chris Higgins's novel as her top favourite but by her eloquence and passion she managed to turn around the votes of more than a dozen of her co-judges (and to be fair, there were lots of people who did love Chris's book already!) to sweep this author to her prize. This will be awarded in Preston on June 30th and it will be a dazzling occasion as ever.
So what about the book? I was very pleased with this result because what He's After Me has in abundance is that most valuable of all literary qualities: unputdownability. It's the story of Anna and Jem. She's besotted with him and vice versa...or maybe not. This is a thriller told from Anna's point of view, though there are passages in italics all the way through from someone else's viewpoint. Jem, we can see as we're reading, has problems. Anna can sort of understand that they're there, these problems, but she's madly in love and gets swept away and persuaded into doing all kinds of things she'd never normally do. Her sister becomes involved. Her father and his new wife and their fancy flat are very important. The whole thing moves along at a good pace and you are always eager to turn the page, to see whether Anna really is going to do what she's intending to and whether Jem is really what he purports to be.
The book is well written and all the characters are believable. The teenage panel agreed that it was touching, exciting, romantic and convincing in every way. They really did love it, the boys as well as the girls, and while I was reading the shortlist it was one of the ones I'd most enjoyed reading too. I'm delighted for Chris Higgins who was shortlisted last year and really deserves a prize for ticking every single box this year and sweeping all before her. And I'm always happy when a thriller wins anything because although crime is the most popular genre of all, it doesn't win many prizes when it's up against other more literary books. Hurray!
PUBLISHER: Hodder Books, FORMAT paperback. PRICE:£6.99 ISBN: 9780340997017
By Adele, 08-May-2012 12:02:00
This book has reviews printed in the front highlighting Rosy Thornton's previous novels and I'm proud to say that my reviews are there with the rest. I am a big Thornton fan and have read everything she's written. Her new book is published by Sandstone Press, a Scottish imprint which has a good eye for wonderful books. They recently brought out Jane Roger's THE TESTAMENT OF JESSIE LAMB which was on the Booker longlist and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke for Science Fiction. Clearly, someone in Scotland has an eye for talent.
NINEPINS is the kind of novel in which you can lose yourself. That's a quality that some books have and others (even very good others) do not. It's about a divorced woman, Laura, who lives out in the Fens near Cambridge with her asthmatic twelve-year-old daughter Beth. She lets out the pumphouse on her property to a young woman called Willow, who is seventeen and in the care of the Social Services. There is arson in Willow's background. She is brought to meet Laura and Beth by Vince, the social worker to whom she has to report.
We learn, through the novel, what happens to all of them, and to the property. There are minor characters of great importance, too: a dog, Willow's mother, Laura's ex, and more than anything there is the Fen landscape and the marshy, watery background to the book. Thornton's particular talent is the way she brings every single character to life. She is careful about domestic detail and wonderful at the pang-filled relationship between Laura and her daughter. The way she describes what's going on at Beth's school and with her friends is a wonder to behold. This book will resonate with every single mother of a young daughter. Their relationship is sticky at times but also full of mutual love and care.
Willow is a mystery at first, but gradually all becomes clear and we get to know exactly what happened in her past to make her what she is. There is sadness for readers on the way to an ending which is really satisfying.
As a bonus, Thornton's eye for landscape and nature and her deep love for the Fens comes across brilliantly. You can practically feel the squelchy mud under your feet as you read at times.
This is a really enjoyable book and one you should seek out. It's written in Thornton's characteristically economical and elegant style. Nothing's over the top but the emotions are tactfully expressed, and both place and people are brought to vivid life by this underrated writer. who deserves a wider readership.
By Adele, 06-Mar-2012 16:11:00
pub. Headline Review. Hbk. £14.99
If ever I saw a book designed for paper and not for the ereader, this is it. The dark blue, cloth bound volume is quite heavy in the hand and on the cover, a child and a fox, both of them white, are moving between white tree trunks. A pattern of snowflakes upon snowflakes spreads over both endpapers and a single snowflake marks the the divisions within each chapter. Even before you start reading, you're enchanted.
This is a debut novel by a young writer from Alaska which has had a tremendous amount of hype. The twittersphere was humming with praise before publication. The reviews have been brilliant. It was Waterstone's book of the month and one branch even made an ice sculpture in its honour. I haven't seen a bad word said about it anywhere, so much so that I was a little nervous about reading it myself in case I was the only person not to fall under its spell.
I needn't have worried. The story is beautifully written and you're immediately caught up in the lives of Mabel and Jack, who've lost a child and moved to an icy wilderness miles from anywhere in order to make a new life for themselves. Conditions are very tough, but they have one another and they have wonderful neighbours. The landscape and the climate are as beautiful as they are unforgiving. When the snow falls, Mabel and Jack fashion a girl out of snow and the rest of the story follows from that.
The novel is based on a Russian fairytale (printed at the back of the book) in which a snow girl comes to life. Faina, the wild child comes from the snow and Mabel and Jack shelter her and begin to love her. She appears at their cabin when the first flakes fall and disappears when the weather gets warmer. We are led to believe she might be a figment of Mabel and Jack's imagination but when Faina grows up, things take a different turn. I won't give away what happens but it was somewhat of a suprise to me.
I thought I'd worked out whether the child was real or a kind of fantasy brought on by loneliness and longing but I kept changing my mind. In the end, I'm not convinced I really do know what I think, but I'm almost sure this doesn't matter. I've told myself it's a fairytale and that is, I reckon, the way to approach it. With a book like this, it wouldn't do to be too literal. Just pick it up and enjoy what is a marvellous account of life in Alaska, a moving tale about two people and how they are helped through love to some kind of happiness, and don't waste time worrying about how the real and the fantastical come together.
I'll be most interested to see what Ivey does after such a promising start to her career.
By Adele, 14-Feb-2012 17:11:00
This year, during the Cultural Olympiad that will be going on in London, every single one of Shakespeare’s plays will be performed and each will be spoken in a different language. All over the planet, Shakespeare is acknowledged not only as the greatest playwright in English but also as someone whose work means something to the people of every country in the world. To say that he is ‘universal’ has become a cliché but like a lot of clichés, it’s no more than the truth.
We don’t know an enormous amount about him. Unlike Dickens, for instance, or Jane Austen, he did not leave behind letters or documents to help us. But certain facts are known. He married Anne Hathaway. He was an actor. His patron was the Earl of Southampton. He was a contemporary of Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe. He was the son of a glovemaker. Jude Morgan’s supremely accomplished and original novel makes it clear also that he was an enigma; that even in his lifetime, no one quite understood how it was that he transcended so completely every single one of his peers and (did they but know it) every other playwright who would ever put pen to paper.
This book, which doesn’t appear in the shops till April 12th, is a revelation. The first thing to say is this: at no point do you feel wrenched out of the comfort zone of modern life and thrust into a fusty, musty, olde-worlde England where you’re not sure what’s going on and where everyone speaks oddly. There is no pish-tushery here. The novel follows young Will from Stratford, to London and also follows, in two more parallel narratives, Anne left behind in Stratford with the children and Ben Jonson, struggling to learn and write while apprenticed to his step-father as a bricklayer.
Morgan is adept at giving a shape and meaning to lives and talents we find it hard to grasp. His novel A Taste of Sorrow brought the Bronte family to life in an extraordinarily moving way and here, his great achievement is to have fleshed out the facts we know in such a way that we are there, with the protagonists, sharing their fortunes, their setbacks, their personal tragedies and above all, the separate stories of their relationships.
Chief among these is the tender and beautiful love story of Anne and Will. She is older than he is. When he leaves for London to follow the players, he promises her he’ll be faithful. She understands his need to leave but his need to write doesn’t become clear to her till she sees a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Then, like the millions upon millions who’ve been enchanted by it since its first performance, she realizes that “ this was where Will had gone. This was where he had taken his self…….Oh, she could offer him truth, perhaps, beauty, love- but nothing, nothing compared with what he could make.”
Earlier in the book, when she wonders how he’ll manage in London, Anne thinks: “he must cherish some great recompense within him. It was as if somewhere there was another box in which he kept his contentment, unassailable and secure. Contentment or joy, she couldn’t tell.”
This is the best thing about the book: the fact that Will, though its hero, acts mostly as a mysterious centre of other people’s stories. There is scarcely any quotation from his work. There’s no trite scene where we see him chewing the end of his quill while struggling to find words. Only a few of the plays are alluded to. Rather Morgan has made the writing almost the ‘secret life’ of the title: something that happens, something he does, away from the main action of the novel. We are aware of it going on off-stage and our main focus is on Will’s personal life, his friendships, his heartaches, his love for his wife, through everything that happens to them both.
Will has always been aware of the power of what he can do. From childhood when he followed the players who came to perform in the town, he’s understood plays. He knows the repertoire backwards. He knows the parts by heart. And he realizes that it’s all done with words.
“And what those words must do: from the moment the play begins, they must make everything: the earth and sky and the people who move there. A soldier’s breastplate, a painted throne –these tawdry bits and pieces are the only aid the words can call on. First, words. First and last, words.
He wants to make it with words. He wants to try it. He doesn’t think it’s his destiny - it’s necessary to be clear about that. But still, there is a gathering. Droplets must gather to make a storm."
This is a beautifully structured, perfectly written book which is moving because it brings out the human story of an almost supernaturally gifted writer. Anyone who already loves Shakespeare will find it compelling and fascinating and for those who still have to discover him, this novel is an ideal way of approaching him. There’s a point in the book when Will is comparing himself with Marlowe and Jonson. This is what he thinks, and it sums up his genius exactly.
“He is like neither of them. No grand doer of deeds…..instead he has this, and to win he must take it up, light with a sharp sure tip to balance the world on: his pen.”
This is no more than the truth. Morgan puts it very well: the whole of the universe and everything in it is balanced on the end of William Shakespeare's pen.
By Adele, 12-Jan-2012 14:10:00
This book was my first of 2012 and it's also outstanding. I've not read much Nicholson Baker. He's an American writer and some of his work (The Mezzanine, U &I) I've enjoyed and some I haven't been tempted to try. This is a very short book indeed but it is so packed with fascinating stuff that I think I'll have to read it again. The story is a simple one: a not-very-successful poet is under pressure to produce the introduction to an anthology of American poets. He is having domestic troubles. He is having doubts about his own abilities. He is awed, infuriated, amazed and entranced by the sheer numbers of poems, and poets he has to consider. Also, he wants to write something about how poetry itself works. The result is quite enchanting. You get a thorough and illuminating account of very many poets and poems and that in itself is marvellous but as well as that, the novel part of the book about Paul, the anthologist and how he fares and what happens to him, day to day, is also interesting, so in effect you are getting two books for the price of one and the whole thing in very few words. It's a marvel of economy and precision and most elegantly written. You end up knowing more at the beginning than you did before you started. It ought to be on the syllabus of every literature course in the country. If you're at all interested in poetry, do read it. Even if you aren't, I think you should give it a go. You'd be amazed to see where Paul finds poetry lurking...A lovely book.
By Adele, 11-Jan-2012 02:00:00
This was the last book I read in 2011 and it was a corker. I haven't tried Jane Harris before though I believe her first novel, THE OBSERVATIONS, was highly praised. The received wisdom in publishing is that the second novel someone writes is a often a problem and not as good as the first. If your debut is a success, critics are ready to pounce on your next effort. If you've used up all your material, or the best of it, then your second novel, so the legend goes, may turn out to be a poor, weak thing.
Nothing of the kind happened to Jane Harris. I will read her first novel now, of course, but I can't imagine it will top GILLESPIE AND I, which was one of my favourite books of the year: a pleasure from beginning to end.
This is the story of a spinster of some means, Harriet Baxter, who manages to entangle herself in the lives of Ned Gillespie, a promising Scottish artist of the 1880s, and his family. He is on the verge of becoming well-known. The First International Exhibition is on in Glasgow and the place is teeming with visitors, tourists, and residents, all enjoying the spectacle. At first everything goes well. Harriet helps the family in various ways and they seem to like her and accept her as a good friend. Then things begin to unravel.. Sybil, the older daughter, starts behaving very strangely. Kenneth, the brother, has to leave town for reasons the reader learns but the family does not. Or maybe does not... At a certain point, the younger daughter disappears. Harriet is the narrator of the novel and it is through her eyes we see every part of the action.
It would be a shame to reveal more because although this is not a thriller, it is a mystery and we don't know, till the very end, precisely what has happened and how. The Victorian action is framed by a narrative set in 1933. Harriet is now in her eighties and is writing down the events of long ago. What we see of her life as an old woman casts doubts over her account of the past and even the present isn't quite what it appears to be. This is a rich, fascinating, involving and fast-moving story, which races to its conclusion with the inexorable power of one of those old Victorian steam trains. There is also plenty to discuss with others and turn over in your mind when you reach the last page. Terrific stuff.
By Adele, 10-Jan-2012 02:00:00
It's so long till this book is published that I don't even have a cover image but I like to write about something as soon as I've read it if I possibly can. When it is published, I'll put up an announcement and a picture on this bit of the website.
Sarah Moss wrote one of the best novels I read in 2011. Its name was NIGHT WAKING and it combined a wonderfully humorous but nevertheless uncomfortably truthful story about the hell of living with a child who doesn't sleep and a husband who doesn't really pull his weight with a mystery in the past and the depiction of one of the islands off the west coast of Scotland both now and in the nineteenth century. It was elegantly written and cleverly constructed and I loved every page of it. I looked about on the internet after I'd finished it to find out more about the writer and to my surprise I discovered that she was none other than the daughter of someone I used to know in Manchester back in the 1970s and 80s. She's about the same age as my elder daughter and her mother and I belonged to something called the National Housewives Register back in the days before Mumsnet when women gathered to have coffee at one another's houses and did reciprocal babysitting too. Having loved NIGHT WAKING I then read Sarah's first novel, COLD EARTH and found that that was great as well. I wrote about both books on my old website and that led to Granta sending me an early proof of this memoir, for which I'm most grateful.
No one at Granta can have known this, I don't think, but I am very interested in Iceland. Long before Steig Larsson swept all before him with his Lisbeth Salander novels, I was reading thrillers by a wonderful Icelandic writer called Arnaldur Indridasson.* In every one of his books he brings to life a country that is like ours in many ways and also quite unlike. Erlendur , a really beautiful creation, is a detective who has problems with his children, as well as a terrible tragedy in his past and he has to deal with crimes both current and historical. The first book I read, THE SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, went right back to a crime committed during the Second World War. Being an Indridasson fan, I went to see the movie JAR CITY and was struck by the strangeness of the landscape. I am, therefore, exactly the target audience for Moss's book.
But others will be fascinated too, to learn something about a place which not many people seems to have given much thought to, before the collapse of the Icelandic banks and the bad behaviour of a volcano. I am not going even to attempt a spelling but you know the one I mean: the one which held up all kinds of air traffic, including Sarah Moss's plane that was to take her to an interview for a job at a Singapore university. The fact that she now teaches in Cornwall instead is due in large measure to volcanic interference.
She tells us she's always been drawn to the Northern lands. When she was much younger, she and a friend visited Iceland as tourists during the summer. This would be different. She was going with her husband and two small children. She was going to teach English literature at the University. She'd be spending a whole year there, including long months in a land of almost total winter darkness.
The book is an account of that year and reading it is as exciting as reading a novel. You see the country through her eyes. You learn about the supermarkets and the scarily unstable ground under the whole country. You meet the students and the lecturers. You go where Moss goes. You hold your breath while Icelandic drivers do their terrifying thing. You discover that you take fresh fruit and vegetables for granted. The financial situation is only gradually revealed and this makes the book almost like a thriller in parts. It seems for instance that many people in the middle classes don't even know that true poverty exists till they see the evidence of it with their own eyes. Several things are contradictory. We're told that it's quite normal for children to be left lying outside shops, for instance, in their prams. It's also unheard of, apparently, for anyone to harm a child. That doesn't quite square what I read in Indridasson and later on in the book, Moss discovers that in fact the crime statistics are very similar to ours in the UK. and that Iceland does experience things like, for example, domestic violence, especially under the influence of drink.
The book is absolutely crammed full of interesting experiences, and awe-inspiring sights, both natural and man made, but I liked best the chapter on knitting and the parts of the book where Moss meets women for whom elves are as real as human beings. She goes to talk to these women about the manifestations they are able to perceive in the landscape around them and her descriptions are enough to make you feel....well, a little uneasy, to say the least. The knitting chapter is completely fascinating and I am about to go onto Google to see if I can find a visual depiction of the Icelandic method of knitting which is apparently completely different from our own. In Iceland EVERYONE KNITS...at meetings,. busstops, everywhere possible. You just carry your wool and needles around with you wherever you go - a marvellous idea, I reckon.
You come away from this book with a dread of Icelandic spellings, a renewed interest in a tough, kind, practical and also very strange people with quite different ideas and priorities from ours but also a great deal in common. It's a real treat to have this account of Moss's year abroad. She and her family clearly loved their time there and she's managed to pass that magic on to us.
* I do rather wish Moss had met Indridasson. Everyone in Rejkavik does seem to know everyone else and it's an amazingly literary country so it might have happened....
By Adele, 13-Dec-2011 14:13:00
This is a wonderful book but it's also almost impossible to write about. Every review I've read of it has said certain true things but none of them has conveyed properly the flavour of the novel and reading it will be the only way you're all going to experience a truly original and memorable work.
It's original in its extraordinary complexity but basically it's an exploration of every kind of love. It is sometimes realistic but it has a streak of magic running right through it. Several things will echo with those who've read widely. For instance, the first encounter of Amaryllis, the heroine, with Ezra, the hero is deliberately reminiscent of the first meeting of Pip and Estella in 'Great Expectations.' You'll find a villain here who comes straight from old movie melodramas, and references to various films scattered through the pages. And Ezra, as the writer herself has told us, is a tribute to the poet Ezra Pound who was so important to T.S. Eliot when he was writing The Waste Land.
The plot is complicated. It involves a millionaire who builds, somewhere in rural England, a glittering picture palace which is an enchanted time and memory machine. He creates it so that his beloved daughter's bad memories can be erased and so that she can live forever in a place where nothing difficult can trouble her. Of course his plan goes wrong and Amaryllis (together with other characters) gets stuck there, unable to escape. Enter Ezra, who, like Orpheus, goes into the Underworld to rescue the girl he adores. She is still seventeen because time has stopped for her. Ezra has grown up and is a boffin working for the delightful Sir Basil as a special agent charged with discovering the secrets of this astonishing place that keeps on appearing and reappearing much to everyone's consternation.
The War is on. The action of the novel starts in 1937, but it moves backwards and forwards in time. Ezra lives in a village with his mother and his father (shell-shocked during the First World War). A whole cast of other people, some alive, some presented in flashback, revolves around him and Amaryllis. There is war, and rape and desolation but glamour and beauty and love too, all whirling round in a kind of kaleidoscope of events and thoughts and memories and thrills. The characters are all brought vividly to life, from Tommy Treacle and his mouse to the hideous Everett Roach and the mysterious Vervaine Fox. Gardner is good at names. She's good at most things. She creates a world that both is and isn't our own. She makes magic seem plausible and at the same time as artificial and glamorous as a magic trick. The true meaning of 'glamour' is "deceptive or bewitching beauty or charm" and that's what this book has in spades. Towards the end of the story we're told "All is in disguise, nothing is what it appears." This is the most accurate summing up of all: Gardner is dealing in illusions and what happens when they're shattered.
But the novel also has a kind and generous heart and that's what makes it moving and true. The descriptions of the nation at war are superbly done and with great economy, too. Gardner doesn't hide anything but she describes horrors with a deft touch and they are more powerfully present in our minds because of it. Her style is light and sometimes humorous but always full of a kind of poetry, and I don't mean by that soppiness of any kind. There's an astringency and sharpness to the writing that means she avoids sentimentality and gush.
This novel is published by Orion on a new list called INDIGO which is for Young Adults. The designer of the volume deserves a mention because every detail of the book's appearance is exactly right: the font, the Art Deco vignettes that appear throughout the text, the cover image: it's typographical perfection and makes the novel an object of desire unmatchable by any ebook version. Adults would love it. Older teenagers would love it and perhaps even a few younger ones but it's a highly sophisticated novel and a complicated one. It will find its readers and they'll spread the word. My advice is: read the book before a movie is made of it. I will bet money on that happening quite soon and in the hands of the right director it'll be great. You will, however, lose a lot of the words and that's what makes this such an intriguing and fascinating book.
I've only mentioned The Wasteland (that's how it's written in this novel) in passing, but that's important. I've not told you about the white tiger. He's important, too. So are many other things I've left out. You are going to have to read the book for yourselves.
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