Monday 17 May 2010

The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint

Pages 506

Challenges - Awesome Author Challenge, Once Upon a Time Challenge and Library Challenge.

Published in 2002 by Gollancz

Once upon a time......

I don't know what makes me turn. Some sixth sense, prickling at the nape of my neck, I guess. I see the headlights. They fill my world and I feel like a deer, trapped in their glare. I can't move. The car starts to swerve away from me, but it's already too late.

Oh how I loved this book! Oh how I now want to own everything this talented author has ever written! Oh how I wonder I have survived all this time without ever reading one of his books.

The Onion Girl is an urban fantasy set in a place called Newford, a fictitious North American city. The book crosses over between reality and fiction in the same way an ambidextrous person can swap hands with ease. The Onion Girl is one of a set of books set in Newford and the characters cross over all the books. I didn't feel that I needed to read the other books first as this book was easily read as a stand alone.

The story is set around the character of Jilly who after being hit by a car, finds that whilst her body is badly broken and paralysed, she can venture over into the dream world like her friend Sophie. Whilst in hospital recovering from the accident, Jilly's apartment is broken into and her faerie paintings are destroyed. Her friends are concerned that Jilly has created a shadow twin, intent on destroying her life's work as she will never be able to paint again. They soon realise that Jilly is not responsible and that someone has set out to destroy Jilly, either in real life or in the dream lands.

I just could not put this down and I spent the entire week walking around with this book in my hand whilst I juggled washing,ironing and cooking. I was so intrigued by it, as many people were not keen on the book. So I ventured in a little weary and just loved it.

Jilly is someone I admire completely. Her life as a child was just awful and from a very young age she had to deal with sexual abuse. Without the love and care of the people on the street, she would never have become such a warm hearted and caring adult. They put her back together and helped her to live and help others. Unfortunately, they couldn't melt the ice that had developed in her heart, but she worked hard to repair that, so that she could find everlasting love. Jilly is like a shining beacon of light, almost saintly.

This book has a cast of unusual characters with many who can transfer from dreamland to reality without getting out of breath. Characters like the Crow Girls, Jack Daw and Coyote are believable, even when they don their animal persona's. De Lint has actually given me hope that perhaps real magic does exist out there and if I just quickly turn a certain way, I might just find my own open door way into the dream lands.

This is quite a dark and disturbing book and from what I can gather, De Lint's other books set in Newford are a lot more lighthearted. So I am kind of glad I started with this one, as it appears to be a lot of reader's least favourite book by him. Now I know I have even better books to read.

One of the main themes that seems to keep rearing its ugly head is child abuse, both sexually and physically. All the characters seemed to have suffered one way or another as children and have walked a very difficult road into adulthood. I couldn't help but see the dream lands as a release for them, somewhere they could go and leave the real world behind with all it's troubles.

This book also dwells a lot on forgiveness. It looks at forgiving the people in your past who have hurt you and learning to move on. Learning to see why they did what they did in the first place, what circumstances out of their control made them like they are. Forgiveness is never easy for anyone, but I can understand when looking to forgive, how you need to take into account the bigger picture surrounding the events.

The reason the book is called The Onion Girl is because that is the way Jilly sees herself. She has many layers and every time you strip one layer away, another one would materialise, until you reached the centre where the real Jilly shone out from. As the book progresses, you get to see another layer of Jilly's previous life that she has kept hidden for many years. By the end of the book, you see Jilly laid bare, and I couldn't help but wonder if I would be such a wonderful person, after experiencing all that she had in her life.

Part of The Onion Girl was originally written as a short story called "In The House Of My Enemy", and the author decided to add it to the book if full. I couldn't tell where the short story was in the book as I am not familiar with it. Does anyone know which bit it was?

This book is just beautiful and fills you with hope, that even when you reach the bottom with all the dirt and sludge, it is possible to rise back up to the top. Happy endings do exist,even when you feel the light from the tunnel has long been extinguished. If you love a bit of magical realism, then I would say Charles De Lint seems to exhale it in gusts of wind.

I found a passage in the book, which clearly made me think of all us of book bloggers.

I think back to what the professor told me about how people need to be storied. How if they miss out on stories when they're younger, it creates a hunger in them that they can't sate. They don't know what it is, what they need. They only know they need something. They have to be re-storied before they can find any kind of peace.

Charles De Lint is definitely an author I wish to read more by and I shall definitely be putting an order into Amazon for some of his books. Can anyone recommend, which books I should read next by this author?

I couldn't find any other reviews of this book, but I know a few of you have read it, so if you put a link in the comments box, I will add it to this post.


  1. If ever a review has made me want to get a book right this minute, it's this review - you so obviously enjoyed every word, every sentence. And what a great extract at the end. Thanks for sharing this Vivienne.

  2. Thanks for your review, Vivienne. I am glad you enjoyed it. I don't know if this book is for me, as I don't like to read about the themes you've mentioned. But still, I will keep this author in mind. So thanks for sharing. It's always a pleasure to read reviews of people who enjoyed a book so much. You can always see that when you read the review, as it was the case with you!

  3. Urban fantasy's not really my genre, but I want to read this book for the title alone.

  4. Charles de Lint is one of my favorites. You should try Someplace to Be Flying or Trader next!

  5. His name sounds so familiar for some reason...dunno why.

    But great review and you really made me wanna read it

  6. Vivienne, It sounds as if you absolutely adored this book. Wonderful! Your review of The Onion Girl is outstanding. :)

  7. I've not read de Lint yet because I don't really like modern fantasy, but Kelly from The Written World loves it and now you do, too! So maybe I should give him a whirl.

  8. I loved Jilly too! Your review reminded me of many of the things I loved about this book - the only thing that didn't quite work for me was feeling that I was missing out on some of the backstory because I hadn't read any of the rest of the series. But that's a minor complaint. My review:

  9. Yay!! You read a DeLint :D I love him so much!! He's one of my favorite authors! I still haven't read The Onion Girl!! Though I have a signed limited edition of it that Subterranean Press did. Your review makes me want to pick it up right now though!

  10. I've heard a lot of good things about DeLint but mostly for other books. I'm so glad to hear you loved this one. I have it and am hoping to get to it for the OUaT challenge. I didn't realize it was so "dark" though. Good to know so I won't be so taken aback!

  11. This sound like a book I would enjoy. I loved the passage you cited.

  12. Petty Witter - I loved it!

    Andreea - I know what you mean. I feel awful say how much I loved a book that dealt with child abuse, but it was never written about in detail and only talked about as something that had happened. I think as well it helped that Jilly became such a strong character after it, that made it easier to read.

    Kathy - Everytime I picked up the book I kept singing either the song, The Chocolate Girl, or The Cornflake Girl. Mad, I know!

    Caitlin - I shall put those on my list. Thank you for suggesting them.

    Blodeuedd - I hope you do get to read it.

    Suko - thank you for such a lovely comment.

    Aarti - you must read it!

    Nymeth - I shall add your review with mine. I didn't feel like I had missed anything out as I felt there was a lot of back story included. However, I went into reading this book without the knowledge that there were other books set in this town with the same people in, so perhaps that helped.

    Chris - you must read it! It is utterly awesome!

    Iliana - I wasn't expecting it to be as dark as it was, but it didn't spoil it for me. You must read it.

    Diane - thank you.

  13. Thsi sounds really good, glad you enjoyed it.
    Great review!
    'This book is just beautiful and fills you with hope, that even when you reach the bottom with all the dirt and sludge, it is possible to rise back up to the top'- so nicely put.

  14. What an awesome story! Thanks for the great review, Viv. I've only read one of the author's books and I loved that one. For the life of me, I can't remember the title but it was good. I want to read this one too.

  15. For some reason, I thought I'd already commented on this one! After your review I quickly added this book to my wishlist. I'd heard good things about Charles De Lint, but I was never sure where to start. And if you say it doesn't matter that I haven't read the other books, then I believe you :)


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