REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly Bloomsbury hbk £10.99
Jennifer Donnelly’s A GATHERING LIGHT was a genuine crossover novel which delighted readers of all ages and was one of the first books published on the teenage lists genuinely (and quite rightly) to make its mark on the literary landscape. It was based on a true story, but took off from the original facts to create a time and a place and above all characters, with whom readers could happily engage.
Now Donnelly has written a novel that’s quite different but which is also one that transcends its genre. My copy is a proof so I don’t know whether the author’s introduction will be there in the final book, but it’s a fascinating account of how she came to write this novel. Made very vulnerable by the fact that she had a young daughter of her own at the time, she describes vividly how horrified and chilled she was to read of the fate of Marie Antoinette’s son, Louis, during and after the imprisonment and execution of his mother at the start of the French Revolution.
This feeling has grown into a book which combines three kinds of novel: a time-slip tale of sorts, a historical novel and the thing that somehow Americans know how to do supremely well: the personal odyssey of a teenage girl who has suffered a great tragedy in her own life.
Andi writes in the first person and we believe her completely. She’s a talented musician but is troubled by many things. Her parents have divorced. Her younger brother is dead and she feels great guilt about how this happened. Her mother is at the end of her tether. She has a marvellous friend called Vijay and a good teacher too, but she’s in a terrible state when the novel opens. We don’t, as sometimes happens in teenage novels, want to tell her to get real and pull her socks up. Rather, we’re drawn into her world because Donnelly has made her so real, so present, and above all, has given her so engaging a voice. We are worried for her, we feel for her, we sympathize with her and when she goes to Paris to be with her father and pursue research on a French composer of the 18th century called Amadé Malherbeau, we know that the adventures are about to begin.
Andi finds something that leads her back in time. Interspersed with her voice is an account of those days written by a young musician/performer of the time, and Andi becomes obsessed with finding out more. The adventures then happen, thick and fast and at first I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of the time-slip element but Donnelly pulls it off with some bravura and by the end, I was convinced. The dénouement is marvellously satisfying without being a cop-out. This is such a well-written, carefully structured and intricately organized book that you race through it longing to know more and even more. Along the way, you also learn a great deal about a side of the French Revolution that isn’t terribly well known. The musical knowledge displayed in the novel is awesome and it has its own playlist printed at the front of the book which will enchant anyone who cares to listen to the tracks recommended. But its greatest triumph is in bringing to the pages of teenage fiction a really terrific heroine whom we grow to care for and admire. I hope Jennifer Donnelly is already half way through writing her next book because I can’t wait to read it.
A TALL STORY by Candy Gourlay. David Fickling hbk
I know I’m a bit late coming to write about this book. It’s been generally admired wherever I’ve seen it reviewed, but because I loved it, I think I ought to add my bit to the chorus of approval. Candy is a member of the SAS but I’ve never met her. From the evidence of this novel, not only is she a good writer but also someone whose own warmth and generosity comes through in her book. It’s the story of a girl from the Philippines living in London, (and by coincidence, also called Andi) longing to be on the basketball team at school, and about to meet a half brother from the Philippines. He turns out to be not only tall but a kind of giant: a fact that’s been kept from the family in London by everyone back in the Philippines. Over there, he is credited with the power to prevent earthquakes and the way that Gourlay intertwines the stories from back home with the life going on in London is economically and cleverly done. But above all, just as in REVOLUTION, it’s Andi’s voice, her warmth and her bravery, her humour and determination which make the book so enjoyable to read. Also, Bernardo does acquire a kind of magic in the end. Do read it if you haven’t already. It’s a truly original and engaging story.