The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
|The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: Unusual and compelling. Even though some aspects of the story aren't convincing I couldn't stop reading.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: February 2013|
I know I'm going to face a dilemma in reviewing this book, because, really, the best way to approach it is to come at it knowing nothing at all. And it's very hard to write about it without giving some important things away! Let's start with the basics, in that this is a story told by Calamity Leek, a child living together with her 'sisters', taken care of by 'aunty' and occasionally visited by 'mother'. Calamity is in charge of a book called the Appendix, in which everything the girls could possibly need to know about their lives is written. They live closeted in their own small farmyard area, protected from the outside world by 'the wall', their enemies being the 'injuns' and 'demonmales'. I know, that's a lot of words in quotes. Let me explain...
When you first begin reading you aren't quite sure where you are, or who anyone is, or if this is real or futuristic or fantasy fiction. Although some things are familiar, such as the term 'aunty' it is soon clear that aunty isn't a blood relation, and that things are not quite normal for the nieces living with her. I don't think I'm revealing too much to say that the girls are being kept in captivity, but that everything they know to be true about their world is, well, a long way from what we would see as real life. They lead a constructed life - but who has it been constructed by, and why? The wall seemingly keeps them safe from the dangers of the outside world, but who has told them what these dangers are, inventing injuns and demonmales? It's interesting to think about the things we tell our children, that are true and untrue, and where you draw the line at 'creating' a child's reality.
I found this a captivating read. Calamity's voice in the story is unusual and although some readers might find the style annoying I found it very compelling and this really was a page turner for me. Her age is never specified, though I'd guess she is in her mid-teens, but due to her situation she often sounds like a much younger, naive child. The situation for the girls is intriguing, and I like the way facts, or suggestions of facts, are slowly revealed through the book. The story moves through two time frames, showing us the girls living on the farm, but also Calamity at some future point being held in a hospital, so we know she leaves the farm, but we have no idea how or why, or if any of her sisters leave with her. You do have to suspend reality whilst reading because I did feel that none of this could really happen, or at least not to the extent it happens within the story. The captivity of the children is a little extreme, and I also felt that the scenes within the hospital weren't realistic with regards to how they would treat a young girl like Calamity who had been through such a traumatic and psychologically damaging ordeal. It's ridiculous that no-one is trying to piece together the created reality that Calamity continues to live inside of, even once she's left the farm.
I loved that all the sisters' names are from musical theatre, it was a sweet moment as I realised that was what was going on, and I'll let you guess how they get their surnames whilst you're reading the story yourself. The relationships between the sisters are interestingly portrayed, and I felt I couldn't predict what was going to happen. Especially since for a lot of the book I wasn't sure what was actually going on anyway! There are still some unanswered questions for me even after finishing the story, though I felt satisfied enough to not be irritated by the ending, and actually the ending is both funny and disturbing and works well with the book as a whole. Although some moments are very dark and sometimes disturbing there are also some moments of humour that lift the book and stop it from being an unsettling read.
You'll have to trust me that I think this is a story worth trying even without knowing more about it. I think had I known the premise before I began I would have felt differently about it, and it's the discovery as you read that adds to the readability of the book. If you like things clear-cut and obvious then it's probably not for you, but if you like a bit of a mystery then give it a try. As a debut novel it's a fascinating read and I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next!
Another promising debut novel that you might like to try is The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall
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