Sunday 24 February 2013

The Changeover

I was really looking forward to this book. Margaret Mahy is a legendary New Zealand author, who sadly died last year, and I hadn't really read much of her work- the occasional picture book, but not any of her longer books. I married a kiwi, and am a frequent visitor there, so naturally I'm interested in their book culture, and feel a sort of antipodean allegiance I guess, and have an expectation that I will like their books, and generally I do. So, I was quite disappointed with myself that I didn't enjoy The Changeover more.

The Changeover, which is sometimes subtitled A Supernatural Romance, won The Carnegie Medal in 1984. It is the story of 14 year old Laura, a schoolgirl in suburban Christchurch, who lives with her mother Kate, the manager of a local bookstore, and her 3 year old brother Jacko. Laura goes  to rather extraordinary lengths to save her young brother Jacko from sinister forces that threaten his life.

It was clearly well written, and I could see the cleverness of the author in the prose, but I just didn't like the story. 

Laura like to hear Jacko praised, but the man leaned forward as he spoke and his dreadful smell struck her like a blow- a smell that brought to mind mildew, wet mattresses, unopened rooms, stale sweat, dreary books full of damp pages and pathetic misinformation, the very smell- she thought she had it now- of rotting time.

I was never fully captivated by Laura's battle to save Jacko from the rather creepy Carmody Braque. There are great themes- love, family, cruelty, revenge, justice, teenage years and early yearnings. Even so I wasn't fully engaged.  Clearly, I'm a bit out on a limb here. Googling around there is much love for this book- it seems everyone else gets it, and loves it. Ah well. We can't all be the same, can we?


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