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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Thrilling Thursday: Review of The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

Sally Gardner's new YA novel is an ethereal literary experience, which I would urge you to treat yourself to.

Title: The Double Shadow
Author: Sally Gardner
Publisher: Indigo from Orion
Published: 3 November 2011 (HB) - coming Aug 2012 in PB
Genre: hmm, tough one. Fantasy maybe (since it's not realism)? Magic realism perhaps? Sci-fi (since it posits a fabulous machine)?  I suppose you'll have to read it to decide :)

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says:
Once there was a girl who asked of her reflection, 'If all I have is fragments of memories and none of them fit together, tell me then, do I exist?'

In a bluebell wood stands a picture palace. Arnold Rubens built it to house an invention of his that could change the war torn world forever. It is to be given to Amaryllis, his daughter, on her seventeenth birthday.

But it's a present she doesn't want, and in it is a past she has to come to terms with and a boy whose name she can't remember.

Who knows what her past has been, or what the future might hold for Amaryllis, lost as she is in this place with no time?

My verdict: beautiful, haunting and evocative, this is a real book to lose yourself in. Recommended for teens upwards.
This novel is extraordinary. Lyrical, elusive and utterly compelling, it draws you and hooks you long before you have any real sense of exactly what is happening.

When I first read the info about this book, it made me think of Angela Carter - probably because of the surreal machine plan and the uncanny double idea hinted at in the title. That comparison was borne out in the reading, due to the lyrical beauty of Gardner's writing, the surrealism and the mythic sense of symbolism created. But that isn't to say this is a derivative work, by any means. This is a truly original novel with genuine literary quality. It's great to see something so unashamedly literary produced for teens.

The characters of Amaryllis and those around her are beautifully drawn and the period detail (the novel is set largely between the world wars) is informative, creating a realistic backdrop to the crazy memory machine. As well as the gorgeous and imagery-rich writing, we are drawn in by the characters' feelings and behaviour, which, together with the setting provide a grounded realism to support the extravagant fantasy of the memory machine, sited in the picture palace. This glorious building stands as a symbol of the nostalgia and unreality which haunt the inventor Ruben.

The narration shifts around in time, adding an additional layer of complexity to the plot, and contributing to the theme of the nature of memory. These shifts in time are matched with changes in tense, switching between a dreamy and fairytale-like past and an immediate and more charged present, giving a sense of urgency to these sections. The narration is all third person in an omniscient style, adding a further sense of the past due to the old-fashioned tone of this narrative style.

The novel has dark overtones and touches on some unpleasant themes. As Gardner stated in her guest post here as part of the blog tour for this book, the past contains some unpleasant truths and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise and prettify them in writing. This darkness, as well as the novel's complexity, make this a book suitable for teens and adults rather than children. I would strongly recommend it to anyone of around 14 and up.

Thank you to Indigo at Orion for sending this lovely book for review.  This review is my twenty-first for the British Book Challenge at the Bookette (to be hosted at the Overflowing Library next year).


  1. I hadn't heard of this book, but your review has made me want to read it. I'll be adding it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review.


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