Friday, 22 January 2016

THE ICARUS SHOW by Sally Christie Reviewed by Adèle Geras

We know what happened to Icarus. He put on  a pair of wings made by his father, flew too near the sun and fell to his death. The  striking cover of Sally Christie's new novel  has chosen to emphasise the myth and at first sight, this doesn't look like a book set in the present day and in a world we recognise. There's a mythic quality to the image.

The story is about a boy, Alex, and his problems and the way he deals with them but it's also about much more than that.  It shows that even the most ordinary lives can be transformed: by unexpected events and people with whom on the face of it you have little in common. 

Alex has adopted a strategy to avoid being bullied  and picked on at school. He lies low and does not react - not to anything. This is presented  to us matter-of-factly:  it's what you have to do to get by each day, but when the reader pauses to think, it's a heartbreaking way for a young boy to spend his entire school day. His 'trust no one' policy means, of course, that he has no friends. He used to have a friend, who's  moved to another part of the country.  A boy called Dave Marsh, known as Bogsy, lives in the house next door, but Alex misses his old neighbours, Maisie and Don, an elderly couple.  When Don died, Maisie, who was like a granny to Alex,  went to live in a care home called The Laurels. Their son, also called Don, lives in Australia.

Then one day Alex finds a feather in his schoolbag and a note saying "A boy is going to fly. Will you be there?" At first, he thinks he's the only one to get such a message but he later discovers that others have had it too, and he sets out to find out who wrote it and even more importantly to wonder: will it happen? Were such things possible?  Would a boy fly? And what would be the consequences if he did?

Alex visits Maisie every Saturday.  She has Parkinson's and  is sometimes confused but he enjoys talking to her and she still has decided opinions about everything.

Then he discovers that Bogsy is making a pair of wings in the shed next door.  Alex recognises the feathers he's using and the two boys form a relationship as they work on the wings together, and and it's this strange  friendship  that colours the second half of the book. 

I'm not going to spoil the story by telling you any more. You will have to read it to find out about the flying:  about how the wings will  be used, and especially about how Alex's whole outlook on life  is changed by the Icarus Show.

The book is brilliantly written.  Alex tells the story  and he's a sympathetic narrator, and uses simple language very effectively to take us into the classroom, the care home, and especially Bogsy's shed, which becomes a kind of workshop for a modern day Daedalus. 

The Icarus Show tells us, subtly and without  raising its voice,  about the way depression works,  the things that bullies do and perhaps something of why they do them, how quite troubled children can react to their circumstances and the extent to which unhappiness can be hidden or twisted into many different shapes. It also emphasises the importance of communication: between friends, between members of a family and especially between one generation and another.

Full disclosure:  Sally Christie is a friend,  but you will have to believe me when I say, (I've said this in almost every review I've written for this website) that I wouldn't recommend something I didn't love.  I loved this book, and I'm sure that many, many readers are going to agree with me. 

Published in hardback by David Fickling Books £10.99
ISBN: 9781910200483


1 comment:

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you, Adele! I'd spotted the book and wanted to know what it was like. Now I know I need to read it.

Post a Comment