Saturday, March 17, 2007
This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn, by Aidan Chambers
In this huge book, broken into six parts, Cordelia and her friends provide an exhaustive revirew of her teenaged years and thoughts for her daughter. It wraps from how she met her daughter's father to a series of woes (romantic, comic, and tragic). Included throughout are various thoughts, facts, and "moans", as well as drawing and poetry.
At 808 pages, this is probably the largest YA book I have ever read, and it is not really a YA book. The explicitness of the sex alone would probably get it banned out of most school libraries, but the real issue is that the perspectives are adult perspectives, the worries and fears (money, jobs, future, etc) are the worries that an adult looking back on adolescence has. Missing are the insecurities and hopes and dreams (as a young person herself would see them).
It is also a very British book, not simply in terms of language but also in outlook. Everyone takes themselves very seriously in this story and hold themselves so tightly that tragedy (and the inability to deal with it) is simply a forgone conclusion. American readers may not be able to pinpoint this problem, but you'll sense it when you read this book that people are just a bit too uptight and stuck on themselves.
Finally, there is the style of the book. Chambers has been writing for some time and there is an impressive variety of styles in this book. I'm not too fond of them as most of them seem done to be clever and literary (as if the audience was a bunch of English teachers rather than a young reader) and often distract from storytelling. Still, it is extremely impressive to create a work of this size and this complexity. By the end, you really truly do know Cordelia in a way that most authors never quite have an opportunity to do.
After reading this work (it took an entire trip out to Seattle and back and an additional hour or two this weekend), I want to sing its praises and intimate that you have to read this book and that it will truly change your life (as some over-the-top Borders reviewer did), but I really cannot. There are some lovely passages in this book, but size and complexity do not make a book great, they merely make it long. I would give it a serious pass. In the time you spend on this novel, you could easily read three really good books that would change your life.