8 June 2012

Review 43: Skellig by David Almond

"Michael was looking forward to moving house. It was all going to be wonderful. But now his baby sister's ill, his parents are frantic and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage... What is this thing beneath the spiders' webs and dead flies? A human being, or a strange kind of beast never seen before? The only person Michael can confide in is Mina. Together, they carry the creature out into the light, and Michael's world changes forever..."

Whilst I much preferred Skellig second time round, I can't say it is up there as a classic for me, which it is often described as. Indeed, it won the Carnegie award when it was first published which is high praise indeed. So I didn't like this the first time I read it, which would have been when I was around 12 or 13 but I can't really remember any specifics about why I didn't like it but I have grown up knowing I didn't like it, criticising it to English teachers and not recommending it to students. I now feel bad about that. Although to me it is a good read, it didn't transcend any boundaries for me and whilst it had some lovely moments, it is nowhere near my list of favourites. My Name is Mina is a far superior book in my opinion, although it obviously does build on themes and ideas that were first created here.

First Line: "I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon."

Why I read it: After reading My Name is Mina, the recently released prequel, I wanted to reread this.  I read it when I was much younger and didn't really like it but I loved My Name is Mina and wanted to see if my opinion had changed, reading it as an adult.

Who I would recommend it to: If you're after a quick read with depth and you don't mind unsolved problems and unanswered questions.
Michael has moved with his parents to the other side of the town they live in. His mother is pregnant and they are excited about renovating the house ready for the new arrival but everything goes wrong when the baby is born prematurely, leaving Michael's new baby sister seriously ill and the house not ready. His parents are upset and worried and leave Michael to his own devices. When Michael ventures into the dilapidated old garage he is not expecting to find a grumpy, dirty man who eats passing spiders and requests Chinese takeaway and brown ale.

He refers to himself as a Skellig, and it is never conclusively revealed what he is. He has mangy wings tucked under his suit but he eats insects and mice and is grouchy and rude. Is he an angel, a monster or something else entirely? He is definitely not human though. Whilst Michael struggles with his family appearing to disintegrate around him, he tries to talk to Skellig and find out how to help him. Michael ends up bringing his new friend Mina to see him. Now, I have just read My Name is Mina, the prequel to Skellig that has just been released so my opinion of her is hugely tempered by how much I loved her in her own book but you get inklings of her wonderfulness in this. If you have read Skellig and loved Mina, go and read My Name is Mina immediately! Mina is far more open to the weird and wonderful and Michael and they end up depositing Skellig in Mina's old, dilapidated family house that her mother owns but they don't live in. Whilst there they discover more about Skellig as he rejuvenates somewhat in the company of the owls in the house.

Skellig is a quick read with an uplifting but mysterious ending. Whilst I did really feel for Michael as he tries to negotiate life, my heart belongs with Mina and I primarily enjoyed this I think as I was reminded of the snippets we get about her from this book. Almond is a beautiful writer and manages to create wonderful snapshots which are in a different league to most young adult novels, there are some truly hauntingly lovely moments in this and one that gave me goosebumps when I read it. The descriptions of Skellig are also incredibly evocative, ranging from disgust as he picks flies off his mangy jacket and eats them, to wonder when we see him at the end of the novel.

I can see why this won Carnegie, even if it isn't to my particular taste, as it is unique and carefully written, something that is all too unusual in the children's fiction market. I would definitely recommend reading it, but I didn't adore it in the way I did My Name is Mina which takes all the strengths of Skellig and takes them to an even higher level.

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