Half Sick of Shadows
Half Sick of Shadows
On the eve of Granny Hazel’s burial in the back garden, a stranger in his time machine - a machine that bears an uncanny resemblance to a Morris Minor - visits five year-old Edward with a strange request. And Edward agrees to be his friend. But Edward is not alone in the world. His twin sister Sophia is about to bring future tragedy upon herself through an all-too-literal misunderstanding of a promise she’s made to their father. So while Sophia stays at home, seemingly condemned to spend the rest of her days in The Manse - a world untouched by modern trappings - Edward is sent to boarding school. There he encounters the kind and the not-so-kind, and meets the strangest child. His name is Alf, and Alf is a boy whose very existence would seem to hint at universes of unlimited possibilities …and who might one day help Edward liberate Sophia. With its Gothic backdrop, Half-Sick of Shadows is a novel of many parts: at once a comical tragedy, a dark and dazzlingly told tale of childhood wonder and dismay, of familial dysfunction, of poetry, the imagination and theoretical physics.
by Dani Solomon
Half-Sick of Shadows is a wonderful story told through complex and compelling characters. The characters both deliver and are delivered at a slow thoughtful pace. Even something as exciting as the discovery of a corpse is dealt with at the level of excitement you might reach upon discovering you’re out of milk and the guests are due soon. This isn’t a bad thing though, Edward our protagonist is just that kind of boy. The only child to show any real promise from an isolated and severely dysfunctional family his, and our, journey starts at his Granny’s funeral (buried in their back yard with the rest of their ancestors). The combination of experiencing death and watching his twin sister deal with a life-changing promise forced out of her by their emotional father causes Edward to experience a personal awakening.
At the tender age of five he becomes aware of what it means to be responsible for others and what it means to really live and to die. Fortunately Edward is highly intelligent and it able to handle such revelations though he never feels any smarter than he should.
David has done an incredible job at writing these heavy subjects through the eyes of a child without making it feel like there’s an adult there behind him. Soon we move on to the boarding school years, where there is something almost reminiscent of Stephen Fry about the writing. Admittedly, it could just be that the story veers into intelligent-loner-boy-in-boarding-school territory although as far as I recall Stephen Fry’s memoirs never included a mysterious semi-imaginary, time travelling, alternate reality-jumping, poetry-harvesting Muse for a friend.
Like the ballad from which it takes its name, (Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, which I recommend reading before the book), Half-Sick of Shadows is a dark tale full of sorrow and, like the ballad, it is one well worth reading.
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