Saturday, 25 February 2017

The beauty of the prose

Reading: Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo
Listening to: "Move Your Body" by Sia
Outside: The flagging gusts of Storm Doris whip across our fallen fence

"The passing seconds became dangerous and spacious. The rules tinkled silently as they broke."
                                                      - Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree

My fantastic bookish friend kindly recommended this, and I only gave the back-cover blurb a cursory glance; as usual, I liked to leap in with little or nothing known about it, the way you'll follow a trail you've never been down. (Do you always want to know what to expect? No.) All I knew, as the cover of her edition boasted, was that The Lie Tree won the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award, which is, ahem, major news

And after having read it in a whirlwind of train journeys (how many times did I almost miss my stop? Several.) and late night I-will-keep-shifting-positions-to-get-comfortable-in-bed sessions, I can say that Hardinge's climb to the top of the Costa pile is a staggering accomplishment: the product of hard work, love, and the blood and sweat and tears of true art. 

My friend probably didn't know how much I love Victorian history, or paleontology, or the history of women's slow clawing away at the social norms that once held them so tethered and constricted inside the whalebone stays of the home. The questioning of and colliding with family expectations.

I fell in love with Hardinge's prose immediately. I fell in love with Faith Sunderly, our fourteen-year-old protagonist, who wants so desperately to do what she loves but constantly finds herself tripped up in the layers of her skirts, as it were. She is a burgeoning scientist in a world that doesn't find girls scientifically capable. Faith, aptly named, is the bridge between the old and the new, between the child and the adult, between innocence and experience. She is a leap personified. I loved her ability to navigate the heartbreaking politics of the upper-class English 1860s household, surrounded by somewhat unlikeable characters - her mother, a Nicole Kidman-like Myrtle, attractive and trying to find a foothold in impossible social norms; her father, the Reverend Erasmus, is the Sam Elliott dad - hard-edged, unforgiving, a man tied to an unspoken promise.

And all of this against the background of Vane, an island as cold as it sounds. The swirl and tug of the sea wind, the roar of waves against the sea caves, the scrape of shovels and picks into the sand of history. The Lie Tree is dark, explosive, engaging. It is an excavation of more than just fossils.

Hardinge's novel reminds me of my very own lantern, Ammonite fossil and Filey seashell -
every time I look at these I think of Faith.

And only after I've read it, as I've glanced over a review or two for The Lie Tree, did I realize that this is actually a children's fantasy book, fit for readers as young as twelve. This surprises me (pleasantly!). Perhaps having walked out of my childhood so many years ago, I forgot that children could read and think so deeply (forgive me!). Even as an adult, I am in awe of Hardinge's art. 

A good book is one that makes you see the world differently. This is one of those books.

If you get a chance to read this, please take advantage.

Happy Saturday, everybody!

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