This was a little unusual and unexpected, but very clever, quite delightful, leaving you with just the best feeling inside by the end. Elsa, is almost eight, extraordinarily bright, some would say unbearably precocious. The story is told entirely through her eyes; the very small world that almost eight-year-old children inhabit. What is ordinary, mundane, rational, and every day to a grown up – other people, events, places - in the imagination of a child become something else entirely. I was reminded so many times while reading this of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime’, where adult stuff is dealt with in the child mind in a way that us adults just would or could not even begin to comprehend.
Elsa is coping with quite a lot of adult stuff in this story. Her parents have separated, with her mother now living with George and pregnant with Halfie – of unknown sex, but half Mum-half George. Her Dad lives with Lizette and her two children. She loves her Dad very much, finds her relationship with him a little strained, and is sad that she doesn’t see as much of him as she would like. Elsa lives with her mother and George in a big old house that has been divided up into apartments where assorted other people live. Including her grandmother who is the most important person in her small world. Granny is the most marvellous elderly woman, completely mad, reckless, and unrestrained in her attitude to life and her actions. She was once a doctor, working in war and disaster zones around the world. Naturally over the decades this has all landed her into numerous trouble spots – both physically and figuratively! Child and elderly woman adore each other. Granny is a storyteller and has created for Elsa the Land-of-Almost-Awake, with magical kingdoms, characters and adventures. In the real world where Elsa is struggling with the changes in her family, is bullied and under attack at school, to be able to escape with Granny into her magic place is the one thing she holds onto.
One day, Granny goes away again. Before she goes she gives Elsa a letter which sets Elsa on a magical adventure of her own, delivering Granny’s special messages as she has requested. In the process Elsa learns all about her Granny, as well as the place she calls home, the neighbours who live around her, and above all a lot about herself.
It is a story of great imagination, although I am a little sceptical that a child such as Elsa really does exist. I feel mean, but I did get just the tiniest bit tired of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, the magic kingdoms, the symbolism – there is a lot of it, and the reader is constantly being brought back to it just in case we forget! A lot goes on in these imaginative phases, and I did get a bit lost with who was who, and who was doing what! But it doesn’t really affect the story in the real world. Like with many things with children, symbolism and imagination can help them deal with the real world much more effectively than counselling or adults trying to explain stuff.
I think this book is written for adults, and others may also find the magic thing a bit much. Nevertheless, it is the type of story which straddles both adult readers and young readers, and I think it would be absolute magic for a grandparent wanting to read or share a story with a youngster. I know I would have loved to have had this read to me by a grandparent!