My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s a couple of things I need to acknowledge about my reading of The Child’s Elephant and it’s those that influence my rating and feelings around the book.
This is a glorious big book, but it’s also resolutely a book of two halves and it took me two goes in reading to actually complete it. The first time I read it, I think it suffered both from my preconceptions and reactions to it (expecting something akin to a Michael Morpurgo, which is not a bad thing but it is not the right thing for this book), and also the slow, leisurely pace of the first half. The pacing of the first half is one of those things that do make sense upon completion, and I understand it now and see the shape of this book, but it was the reason I put the book down at first. So there is something to learn from this and it is something to do with pacing, but also of expectations and of the difficulty of classifying a book before you have read it.
Because the second half of this book told me that I had got it all wrong and that beneath this world, edging the beauty, was a kernel of darkness so horrible and so gutwrenching that it would inevitably pull Bat and Muka and Meya into its path.
You’ll note that I’m telling you very little about what actually happens in this book, and that is quite deliberate. I’m starting to wonder if it’s one of those books that benefit from the blank slate, from not being compared and contextualised against others. I wonder if it’s one of those books you sort of have to slide into a little blankly, a little reluctantly, maybe, to read into the book, to wade through the beautiful, painterly passages about the jungle to fall a little unexpectedly into the bit where everything starts to fall apart, too fast, too soon, too hard, and to feel that shift, to feel that wrench from everything you’ve become comfortable with, that you have come to love and accept as the truth of this world and to be left breathless at the awful, awful truth.
*note* I’ve just dropped this book back off at the library and have realised that everything I’m trying to say in the above review can be summed up if you look at the coverwork (shown here in an excellent review over on We Sat Down). My utmost applause to David Dean.