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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Greylands By Isobelle Carmody. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2012

Jack is dreaming of his mother, who died after a fall from a height in a fun park. She had been suffering from a form of depression, whose cause we learn late in the book - and Jack blames himself, because it happened on his birthday treat. He is close with his young sister and their father, but since his wife's death, the children's father has been unable to smile or show affection. Soon after the dreams, Jack finds himself slipping in and out of the Greylands, which are strangely bare of humans, apart from a few individuals who appear now and then when necessary to the plot, and are colourless. The Greylands are, in fact, the country of depression and grief, where flying represents escape. There, he meets a little girl he calls Alice, who is clutching a bundle which she refuses to put down for even a moment, a caged being known as the laughing beast who laughs at the absurdities of life and so is not popular, and the terrifying creatures known as wolvers, whose howls and growls are heard, though you can only hope not to see them. There is a puzzle to be solved here, and Jack knows it's connected with Alice and her bundle. It needs to be solved, because another tragedy is on its way...

This novel, one of the author's few stand-alones, was first published some years ago by a much bigger publisher than Ford Street. It's strange to think that anything by a wildly popular writer like Isobelle Carmody would ever go out of print, but this one did, and is now back, in a revised edition with a new cover. The introduction speaks of the background to the novel, her feelings after her father's death, when the world was just going its normal way while her family was grieving its loss. I confess I haven't read the original version and would have liked some hint as to the difference between that and this version, but it doesn't matter, really. You take the story as is, and if you have read and loved the original, you will know as you read and can make your judgement on the changes. I get the feeling that this book is very important to the author, whichever version you read.

This is really something of a literary novel rather than a straight fantasy. There's enough adventure that children might find exciting, though it mostly involves escape from wolvers, but really, it's about family and what happens to a family suffering loss, and which family hasn't? There are some nice references to Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen and it's likely that the author has this in mind; Jack sometimes enters the Greylands through a mirror and his sister suggests that perhaps their father has a piece of mirror lodged in his heart, like Kay in the Andersen story.

Greylands is a bit too sad for me to think of rereading any time soon, but is worth recommending to a good reader of about thirteen upwards. It will become a classic.


Lan said...

I'm a huge fan of Isobelle Carmondy's Obernewtyn series but this one sounds much too sad for me.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Isobelle's stand-alone books are very different from her series fantasy. You probably wouldn't enjoy it if that's what you were expecting. If you aren't a fan of the fantasy series you'll get more out of it.