Wednesday 17 September 2014

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The first things to shift were the doll's eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss's face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak. 'What are you doing here?' It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. 'Who do you think you are? This is my family.'
Macmillan 2014
409 pages in paperback.
Summary from Frances Hardinge’s website
When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it's too late…
I could merely write ‘extraordinary’ and leave it at that. 
‘Cuckoo Song’ is not just exquisite writing but better still a fabulous story – in both senses of the word. All the lovely phrasing and imagery in the world will not correct a poor tale – but this shadowy fairy story is built upon a strong blackthorn skeleton.
Frances Hardinge tells her strange story with all the many-layered depth of a folktale retold. It is rooted in the period just after The Great War. It reflects the changes in society we know
from history as well as the unsettling wonders and inventions readers of her work have come to expect. There’s family conflict deep in the heartwood of this powerful drama – lies, self-deception and sibling rivalry. But the leaves and branches are hung about with galls and cobwebs and the remains of small dead things.
It is not for the faint-hearted or those in search of a quick, easy read. It will delight confident readers willing to immerse themselves in a parallel historical world full of disquieting beings. They also need to be able to keep track of a moderately complex though fully resolved plot - and a quirky sense of humour would help.
I have only one reservation – which has nothing to do with the writing: the cover. The crackle glaze effect is good- and the haunted look of the girl matches the subject. But I deeply dislike photographs of the key character’s face. It limits what that person can look like in the reader’s imagination. It is not inclusive – publishers take note. Give me art work any time. Something like this would reflect my perception better...
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Detail from album cover of Never Forever Kate Bush – by Nick Price
Back to the book. It is her most moving work so far – simpler and stronger than earlier stories. It is one of those tormenting books where on one hand I was desperate to find out what happened next to Triss, but on the other I didn’t want it to end. I shall be reading it again.
If you love Neil Gaiman’s’ Coraline’ or any of Catherynne Valente’s ‘The Girl Who...’ series, do give this a go.

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