Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
on 13 March 2012
It's difficult to know how to describe this book. The story is told in Acts rather than Chapters, opening with a cast list which includes `The Velvit Gentleman' credited as Anton Konstantin; `Mum/ Shut-Up' as Joan King, and `Welsh Slapper' as Gwen Llewelyn. Confused? You will be.
Ostensibly it's about a woman who's just been released from prison. She lives in stark poverty in a shabby room in a shared accommodation unit where the other residents are intrusive and a little scary, all with their own demons and anti-social behaviours. She is constantly waiting for her giro to arrive, fishing teabags out of the bin and struggling to eat and keep warm.
The reader, of course doesn't know how she got to this point, though very early on we are given a glimpse of a police interview where she admits to shooting a man called Quentin Sumner (Eton Boy in the cast list). Her story is then recounted in flashback, starting with her childhood and slipping in and out of different stages in her life.
Don't mistake this for a misery-memoir type of novel, though there's abuse and violence enough to fill a whole series of them. The protagonist, Lulu, who takes on, or is given, a range of names and identities throughout the book, is a funny, stoical, almost Dickensian little urchin. She survives a dysfunctional childhood, living on her wits. A gift from her grandfather, a book about Africa, inspires an alternate existence as a Masai warrior in the universe of her imagination. The wasteland near her home becomes the Masai Mara where she hides in the long grass and constructs elaborate dens in the trees. She speaks her own hybrid dialect and interprets the reality around her with a combination of childlike innocence and watchful suspicion.
The state fails this child abysmally. The police attend her home so frequently to deal with domestic violence that they come equipped with chocolate, but don't think to remove her to safety. The secure unit she is eventually placed in is chaotic. Officials are well-meaning but nobody has the wit to rescue her. But it's more than a social-conscience novel. It's both horribly real and magically surreal. The story encompasses a psychiatric hospital where she hides out as a juvenile absconder, passed off as a caretaker's daughter; an episode of a horse kept in the living room by Gwen (Welsh Slapper) that our heroine has to bulldoze down the wall down to liberate; armed robbery in a casino, and a trekking holiday to Africa to discover the Mountains of the Moon, another location that loomed large in her childhood imagination.
If you want your rewards from reading this book you have to be prepared to work for them. There's the dialogue, the shifting back and forth in time and place, the multiple identities of Lulu - or Catherine, Louise, Kim, Mitten, whatever you would like to call her. The crossover between fantasy, hallucination, misconception and reality, Lulu's' fractured mental state, the sweeping cast of characters, the struggle to piece together what's going on at any given time etc etc.
Is it worth the effort? Absolutely yes. harrowing in places, but this book reminded me why I love reading so much. It's not just a passive activity. It can make you feel alive again. This is a wonderful piece of writing. Inventive, creative and imaginative. There's nothing hackneyed or forced about this book. I think great art gives us a new way of looking at the world and the perspective here is so unorthodox and original. And incidentally I love the cover illustration, a little bit quirky and children's storybook gothic which matches the content perfectly.