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Just about good enough to gloss over the gaping gaps between rooftops
on 18 May 2014
I have been reading several children's books a week for fifty years, and professionally for thirty, often for review. I stand by my sense that, whoever the book is aimed at and whatever its subject matter, if has the potential to grab me and hold me and that's what makes me sit up and take notice. This one didn't quite manage to do that, even though, as someone who suffers from terrible vertigo, much of the high-rise stuff was so well- written that I could hardly bear it and my palms were sweaty! It is an old- fashioned book in the best sense, in the manner of I, Coriander and The Thief Lord. Children who've read it in school have adored it, though it's a little too whimsical for my taste. I think, however, that what is missing here is a decent editor. As other reviewers have pointed out, there are grammatical and spelling errors ?
( practise as a noun in an English children's book? Are we wasting our damned time in school, then?) But, more importantly, there are glaring gaps in continuity in the text. The worst of these is when Sophie revisits Matteo on his rooftop with the food. On the first visit, she has to cross a tightrope strung between buildings, clinging to him for balance. The next night, this extraordinary obstacle apparently no longer exists, as she discovers him already on his roof, her journey to get there suddenly irrelevant. This is not the only place where the impression is given of chunks of text having been removed and the gaps not sewn up.
If there's one thing I know, it's that the more incredible your story, the more consistent you must be with your version of reality. This is what makes Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken et al the genii they are and what makes J.K. Rowling so successful. She may have other faults but she would never countenance such an inconsistency. I doubt if it's the writer's fault and I'm shocked that Faber, of all publishers, is so lackadaisical.