The Double Shadow : Sally Gardner

The Double ShadowThe Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a uniquely challenging enigma to review,possessing of both heart-breaking beauty and ferociously complex and dense text. It is a book of two halves and I think, a book that doesn’t really start with page 1 nor end with page 384. It is a book that I would describe as avant-garde both structurally and textually. It is, as you may gather, a rather complicated experience.

The Double Shadow is the story of Amaryllis Reuben and how her father has built a machine, for her, that also possess the power to change the world. It is also the story of how people are guided and shaped by their memories, by the re-shaping of their memories, and by their stories. There are levels upon levels here, and it’s not an easy read. I described it on Twitter as being “beautifully written, but so far it’s like wandering through a fog holding hands with a guide who doesn’t tell you where you’re going.”

But the thing about Gardner’s writing though is that you take that risk, and you join her on the journey because you know she is good. And she is. There’s moments in this where, with great restraint, she writes moments of intense beauty.

But then again that beauty has to stand against the viciously dense text, and sometimes it’s hard to remember why you’re reading this when you’ve spent fifty pages not being quite sure what’s actually going on. Like I said, it’s a complicated and confusing experience.

So do I recommend this? I think I do, but I think I recommend it primarily for the writing, and the crystalline acuity of her observations. Gardner is good, so very good, and I applaud her invention, bravery and risk-taking in this novel, but I do equally acknowledge that this spirit of invention may not translate into a mass-market approval. And that’s for several reasons, as highlighted above, but also one more. Because, whilst the above all stands, I’ve realised something else.

I’m still not really sure what I made of this book.

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2 thoughts on “The Double Shadow : Sally Gardner

  1. I can understand where you’re coming from – I’ve had similar experiences with Gardner’s books for teenagers (I think her stuff for younger readers is written brilliantly without getting lost). I have to say this is why I haven’t yet picked up maggot moon.

  2. I agree with a lot of what you say. I have recommended it as Book of the Week at school as I’d like to know what a boy or two would make of it. I think it’s about identity: to what extent we depend on our memories to be who we are, and how much we would be diminished without even our worst memories. The plot did lose me at times and I’m still not sure it hangs together but, as you say, that’s not necessarily the most important thing about it.

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