23 March 2011

11. The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

I frequently say that truly wonderful novels are when an author manages to fuse beautiful writing with a brilliant plot, something that happens less than one would like. Something like Twilight has the great plot - whatever your opinions of it you can't deny the way it has captured so many imaginations. Sadly, Stephenie Meyer does not have the writing skills to match - I find the writing in the Twilight series - particularly in Breaking Dawn - tedious and embarrassing. I would venture to say that a novel such as A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book occupies the other end of the spectrum - the book is cleverly and beautifully crafted but not much really happened and what did happen took a long time to happen and by that time, I didn't care what happened.

Sadly, The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham falls into the first category. I am inclined to be more forgiving of the latter category, which is perhaps my own literary snobbishness coming through but there I stand nonetheless. At the core of The Memory Cage is a fairly unique story with lots of themes that are relevant to it's young adult audience as well as introducing themes that they may not have thought about before.

Alex is a Bosnian refugee who has been adopted by an English family after his parents were murdered and his little brother drowed in the escape attempt. Alex is particularly close to his adopted grandfather who is suffered from Alzheimer's disease and Alex is concerned that his adoptive parents don't seem particularly concerned about his happiness and just want to shove him in a home as soon as possible. In an attempt to restore his grandfather's memory, Alex begins to compile a scrapbook of his grandfather's life but uncovers a host of family secrets in the process. Issues of war, adoption and mental illness are all discussed and encourage young people to think about the rights, wrongs and inbetweens of these issues.

The problem, however, is that Eastham never seems to live up to the promise of her story with her language. I found the description overly long and dull and the dialogue clunky and unrealistic. I don't pretend to know what a Bosnian refugee feels like but I like to think that as a person and a school librarian I at least can begin to know what teenagers feel like and I don't think that Eastham manages to capture this accurately. The characters become caricatures: vapid sister, bullying brother, grumpy old man and flawless and worthy hero. The family secrets become rather complicated and far fetched and the germ of a good story gets lost in an unnecessarily convoluted ending and bizarrely melodramatic language.

1 comment:

  1. Amen to your first point. It seems as though YA fiction is particularly plagued with idea vs execution.