BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult
has its moments if only the two could more often get away from the card table that increasingly dominates their lives. Some romantic touches and the author’s dry humour help things along until the next battle for tricks re- commences. Sachar cannot be faulted for his ambition to get across the finer points of a game that is apparently losing popularity as other leisure interests take over. But this is still a tough read.
NT The Radleys HHHHH
Matt Haig, Walker Canongate, 352pp, 978 1 4063 3028 1, £10.00 pbk
Bernard Beckett, Quercus, 192pp, 978 1 84724 930 2, £6.99 pbk
The story begins as 14-year-old Anax prepares to endure a cold and rigorous oral examination in an attempt to enter the Academy, the intellectual elite controlling the authoritarian Utopia in which she lives. Much of the book is the transcript of her interrogation, recounting the history of the state’s emergence from the global biological war of the 2050s. Anax’s specialism is the life of Adam Forde, a rebel against the ruthless isolationism of an earlier Republic. The mystery of Forde’s contribution to the current civilisation is at the hear t of the book, conveyed in Anax’s reconstruction of the antagonistic dialogue between the imprisoned rebel and the ar ticulate robot with whom, or with which, he shares his cell. The question of whom or which is critical. Complex issues about the nature of human and ar tificial consciousness, and about the ethical status of Forde’s rebellion, form a philosophical theme rising to the staggering climax of this novel-of-ideas. Readers who have engaged in its deeply fascinating and moving play of theory and narrative action will never forget these final pages. They haunt me still.
GH The Cardturner HH
Louis Sachar, Bloomsbury, 352pp, 978 1 4088 0850 4, £12.99 hbk
This author’s previous novel Holes sold over eight million copies. This new novel, his first for four years, will almost certainly prove less popular. Largely revolving around the game of bridge, it is packed with the sort of information wonderful for enthusiasts but despite all Sachar’s efforts not terribly interesting for everyone else. A keen player of the game himself, his story of a 17-year-old boy forging a relationship with a blind great uncle
I finished this book wanting more – it’s an entertaining and thoughtful read which creates a world so vivid and unusual that it won’t let go. The Radleys are a family of abstaining vampires – at least, Mum and Dad are but their two children are unaware of their real natures and remain so until the untimely arrival of Uncle Will, who takes great and determined pleasure in tr ying to destroy the carefully respectable but unbearably dull facade that Peter and Helen have constructed to protect themselves, their children and the outside world: ‘That same old timid tea-dance of human existence.’
The joy of this novel is its ability to tackle problems at the hear t of many people’s lives – bullying, lost love, infidelity, non-conformity – through the medium of a genre so wholehear tedly in vogue. The narrative is both wide- ranging and rich – no attempt to merely push the right literary buttons and wait for the standard response here! The idiosyncrasies of the writing match their subject matter yet illuminate so much about the human condition.
There is a good deal of off-beat humour and an enormous amount of irreverence about the conformity which society sometimes foolishly (if necessarily) holds in such high esteem.
There is also a good deal of adult content – in word and deed – which makes this book more suitable for older readers and for adults. It’s a place where we can all look through a mirror which Haig offers for the examination of the Radleys’ eccentric lives – and our own. A must-read. VR
Passing Strange HHH
Daniel Waters, Simon & Schuster, 400pp, 978 1 84738 960 2, £6.99 pbk
This novel is the third volume in a ‘teen zombie’ stor y. It tells of Karen DeSonne, who has killed herself but lives on as one of the ‘undead’, visible, and able to disguise herself to ‘pass’ as a living person, holding down a job and living in her family’s basement. She is part of a community of others who appear to be able, in different
32 Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010 The Children of the Lost HHHHH
David Whitley, ill. Tomic Tomislav, Puffin, 416pp, 978 0 14 133012 9, £7.99 pbk
This is the second book in Whitley’s trilogy set in an alternate quasi- mediaeval world. The first book, The Midnight Charter (reviewed in BfK No. 179), introduced us to the city of Agora, where ever ything can be bought and sold, each relationship needs a contract, and human characteristics such as emotion and despair are bottled and can be taken like a drug. In this harsh social climate, young Mark has risen to the heights as a public seer, while Lily has set up an almshouse for the poor and destitute. However, political machinations lead to their joint banishment to the outside world of forest, marshland and streams. This is the star ting-point for the second volume, which follows Mark and Lily to a peasant-village, dominated by faith
degrees, to ‘heal’ after death; they are under attack from bigots who think they should have no rights and try to frame them for murder.
With many themes, a confusing array of characters, and a plot worthy of Wallander, this is a chewy read, dark, pacy and ultimately involving, but one definitely for those with patience for the genre – I felt it’s rather an easy way for an author to have his cake and eat it, while also attempting to address the age-old themes of prejudice against difference: it turns out that Karen is gay too, which casts a poignant light on her suicide.
I had to try very hard to find young testers for this book – several thought it too unpleasant and my eventual reader, who had read the first two books in the series (Generation Dead and Kiss of Life) thought Passing Strange more grown up than the first two volumes which follow the inter- linked stories of individual characters, and more disturbing than them.
and harmony – the opposite, apparently, to Agora. Yet the implicit imposition of unquestioning conformity, tied to everyday toil and religious observance, soon leads Mark and Lily to recognise the need to be themselves. Surrounding the village is the forest, the home of the Nightmare, which works through dreams to unlock ‘every secret urge, every dark desire’, and ‘turn them loose’. The two young people must learn to ‘ride the Nightmare’ when they leave the village, and Lily embarks on a pilgrim’s progress to find her father and, through him, the truth.
The narrative of Lily and Mark’s adventures moves forward at a brisk pace, with exciting set-pieces and a vivid sense of place. Ever y third chapter is set in Agora, largely continuing the political story of the first volume. These interpolations tend to disrupt the main story, but their importance becomes evident as the two strands come together before the end of this volume. Many readers will appreciate the consideration given in the text to issues such as conformity and individuality, although some may be confused by the various Orders and Brethren that appear. However, all should value the acute characterisations and the tense moments of gothic drama. It should be noted that some of these passages, especially those that deal with the infiltration of dreams, could be disturbing
for par ticularly
impressionable children. Generally, The Children of the Lost represents a sophisticated expression of moral issues through the fantasy mode. The second novel ends at a crucial point for both the central characters, leaving the overall effectiveness of the trilogy to become fully apparent once the complete story arc has been published.
RT Almost True HHH
Keren David, Frances Lincoln, 448pp, 978 1 84780 101 2, £6.99 pbk
In this cracking sequel to David’s debut novel, When I Was Joe, teenage murder witness Tyler is still in hiding from the ruthless killers who seek to silence him. The police have moved Ty and his mother to a quiet seaside town, away from the friends he made during his time as ‘Joe’, and Claire, the girl he fell in love with. But then a bullet intended for Ty kills his mother’s new boyfriend, and Ty is forced to flee for his life again. No longer trusting the police, his aunt takes him to stay with a wealthy older couple who know a surprising amount about him. Soon, Ty is being asked to embrace a whole other family he never knew about. And, with the murder trial at which he must testify fast approaching, Ty, uprooted and confused, is quite literally haunted by the prospect of being asked to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
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