Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book 89: The Wolf In The Attic

"I'm getting too big for Pie, Pa says. I like it when he tells me I'm growing up, but I won't let her go. She's my best friend, if a friend is someone you can tell things to, and sit quiet with, and hug in the dark of the night. He doesn't like her. She still has the burn marks on her from that last terrible day, when we were hemmed in between the fire and the sea. The day mama died."

Dates read: September 14-17, 2016

Rating: 5/10

As I'm writing this (late September 2016), there's still a lot of rhetoric around refugees...whether they should be resettled here, what kind of security controls there should be, that kind of thing. Allowing anyone to enter the country necessarily comes with some measure of risk and in a world where terrorism is increasingly present in areas where it hasn't been, I understand the knee-jerk impulse towards fear. But once you start thinking about what it might be like to be a refugee, to be so traumatized and at-risk that you need to leave behind everything you've ever known and loved...I personally can't even imagine going through that. Refugees deserve our sympathy and support.

The refugee experience is a major thread in Paul Kearney's The Wolf In The Attic. Young Anna Francis left behind her home, her language, whatever might remain of her family, and even her original name behind when she and her father fled Smyrna. They anglicized their name and fled to England, and although Anna's father has a hard time completely leaving Greece behind, he tries his best to raise Anna like an English girl. We get glimpses at what used to be, a happy and prosperous family of four living by the sea, making the reality of what is seem even harsher in comparison: eating nothing but bread and butter for days at a time to try to scrimp up enough money to stay current on rent, unable to afford properly fitting shoes for Anna, hardly able to keep the fireplace lit for heat in the winter.

Anna is about to become a teenager, but she's still clinging to childhood (symbolized in the form of a beloved doll, a gift from her long-gone brother, which she keeps close all the time). For me, this is a characterization that works...the experiences she's suffered through would definitely make one leery of change, of adulthood in all of its complexity. But thrown into adulthood she is when her father dies and she has nowhere to go but the workhouse. Nowhere, that is, but to a band of travelers (they're not exactly Romani, but a similar kind of idea) that she'd previously met when exploring the woods near her home. This is where the story veers away from a refugee tale and into magical realism, because Anna finds herself drawn into the centuries-long skirmish between her new friends (who are hiding some secrets) and a sect descended from the Druids. There's even the devil hisownself in the mix for her soul. Where Anna ends up with, and how, make up the balance of the story.

The back half of the story, honestly, was where it lost me. Kearney creates a compelling world for Anna in Oxford...some familiar literary giants even show up, but in a way that I thought was organic and worked naturally within the narrative. The story of Anna and her father and how they got into the circumstances they're in is well-crafted and heartfelt, and Anna is an easy character to connect with: a pre-teen who is bold and curious but not indomitable, and who finds herself just wrenchingly alone when her father is gone. Her first few encounters with the travelers set the stage well for her to flee to them in her time of need. I actually loved the way her encounters with the Devil were written...eerie and unsettling and emphasizing just how vulnerable she is. But the greater war between the travelers and the Druids, how it all plays just fell totally flat for me. It felt like Kearney didn't have a great idea for his own backstory and so provided only minimal details in the hopes that the reader would infer a richer background than is there. It's a promising premise and has merit but is torpedoed by its own last third.

Tell me, blog do you feel about "famous person" cameos in literature?

One year ago, I was reading: The Lords of Discipline

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