Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick - review by Dawn Finch

The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.
It's there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant greendale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. There on the other side of the world as a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors the hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.
Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so, their journeys begin...

I should declare a bias before you read the rest of this review - I'm a massive fan of Sedgwick's work and have read all of his books and so I was looking forward to reading Ghosts very much. I was aware that it was a different format to his other books and I was looking forward to something new. I was not disappointed.

Ghosts of Heaven is split into four parts; four different stories interconnected by various key elements and a theme inspired by the occurrence of the spiral form. The remarkable thing about these stories is that we are encouraged by the author to read them in any order we like. I read them in the order 4, 1, 3, 2 - and was thrilled to find that the seeds of other stories are sewn in each chapter. It really is extraordinarily accomplished to make all of these stories connect in such a subtle and fluid fashion. I've certainly never read anything like it.

But it's not just clever, it's beautiful too. Each section has its own tone and voice, and is written with Sedgwick's usual deft hand. To be honest I could have read a novel based on each and every story and been wholly satisfied. Each chapter represents a very fine piece of writing alone, and the fact that they curve and spiral around each other is utterly fascinating.

However, it did raise an issue with me that I have often been baffled with. This book is listed as a YA title and yet almost all of the central characters are adults facing adult situations. The two younger characters are based in a time period when there are no "young adults" and so they behave as adults to adult situations. I am often puzzled as to why a book is marketed as YA when it is clearly an adult book. Don't get me wrong - I do think that young adults will love this book, but the type of young adult who will enjoy it will also be the type of reader who is already reading adult books. I feel that by listing it as YA there will be a lot of adults who will remain completely unaware of the existence of this book, and they will miss out. I strongly feel that Sedgwick deserves a much wider audience, and this is perfect example of a wonderful book that might not get into mainstream adult reviews and magazines simply because it's marketed as YA. I genuinely don't understand adults who lock themselves into a place where they don't read YA books. That is a great shame because in this case people are missing out on a remarkable reading experience.

Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick is published by Orion - isbn 9781780621982 - £10.99
On Sedgwick's website you can view the atmospheric trailer.

As of December 2014, Ghosts of Heaven has been  shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards as well as the Bookseller YA Fiction Prize
It has also been listed as a Peters Book of the Year and a Lovereading Book of the Year 2014

review written by Dawn Finch - author of Brotherhood of Shades



Sue Purkiss said...

My guess is that most adults don't purposely 'lock themselves into a place where they don't read YA books'; they just go to the front of the shop where the adult fiction is, and they don't even think of looking at the YA shelves. We know, because we're in that world - but how would most people?

Jonathan Emmett said...

I've just read this as it was shortlisted for the children's book category of the Costa Book Awards. I enjoyed it, but I'd have to say its shortlisting as a "children's book" feels even more inappropriate than the YA label and may put off older readers that might enjoy it.

I think it's a far, far better book than "Five Children on the Western Front", which won the Costa children's category and I can't help wondering if it lost out because "Five Children" was more obviously a children's book and therefore deemed a more appropriate category winner.

If you liked this, I'd strongly recommend David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and "Ghost Written" which have a similar structure, made up of interconnected stories.

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