In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.
Published by Vintage in January 2013
Pages – 291
Judith and her father don't have much - their house is full of dusty relics, reminders of the mother she's never known. But Judith sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith, and where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility. Bullied at school, she finds solace in making a model of the Promised Land - little people made from pipe cleaners, a sliver of moon, luminous stars and a mirror sea - a world of wonder that Judith calls The Land of Decoration. Perhaps, she thinks, if she makes it snow indoors (using shaving foam and cotton wool and cellophane) there will be no school on Monday...Sure enough, when Judith opens her curtains the next day, the world beyond her window has turned white. She has performed her first miracle. And that's when her troubles begin.
This book really captured my attention when I heard about it. The idea of a child creating a world out of the things she finds on the ground and then using it to make miracles happen, is the ultimate wish of every child. Judith epitomises the awe and wonder of childhood.
You instantly feel sorry for Judith. She has a lot to deal with for a child. She absorbs the problems of the adults around her like a sponge. Her mother died giving birth to her, which made her feel very guilty from a young age. She is also very different to other children, which makes her open to bullying. Her father is part of a religious sect, although it is never clear which one and they regularly knock on people’s doors to preach. Her life barely resembles a normal childhood, yet to a certain degree she is content as she doesn’t know any different. She wants things to change and believes that she has brought about the changes that occur, even if they are detrimental to her life. I had a lot of time for Judith as I read the book, but I did have a problem with her voice. The book was written in first person from Judith’s point of view. The language and prose used was not a ten year old’s voice, it was that of an adult. It was far to clever and literary to be a child talking. I don’t know if this was done on purpose but it did spoil the narrative for me.
This book covers some strong themes. At the centre of everything that happens is an element of bullying. From the classroom antics, to the factory strikes. Even Judith’s God is bossy and ordering her about. To be honest I’m not sure what to make of Judith’s discussions with God. Was God supposed to be real or a figment of her imagination? Or perhaps she was suffering from a mental breakdown. The book also looks at religion, family relationships and life in general.
By the end of the book, Judith’s life changes. Although you are kept wondering what will happen right to the end and whether the changes will be good or bad.
It was definitely an interesting read, but I didn’t feel as dazzled as I was hoping. I believed I was promised magic, but the magic promised was coated in a darkness that left you full of despair. Everything that happens in the plot, leaves you feeling uncomfortable and I think that’s why it took me so long to read it. It’s a heart wrenching read that cannot be rushed.