Siboney Duff - Between the Covers

The Ghosts Child

By Sonya Hartnett

An exemplary author and recipient of numerous awards, Sonya Hartnett is long-used to, and wary of, the world of literary classifications and the seemingly narrow title of author of children and young adult fiction most often associated with her name. A writer of literary fiction that explores the lives, dreams, feelings, and fears of its generally young protagonists, most of her books have been marketed for years as young adult stories. But like many of her previous offerings, The Ghosts Child is a book as comfortable in the hands of an adult as any book propped on the adult shelves of bookstores and libraries.

The Ghosts Child begins with Matildas arrival home and her discovery of a strange young boy who is waiting for her in her lounge room. He comes bearing news, this uninvited guest, and Matilda (an elderly woman) is surprisingly unperturbed: He was like a strong bold bird that had flown into the room and, finding itself cornered, was bored, but unafraid.

Thus begins a dialogue between the two in which Matilda recounts her life, her childhood, her youth, her first love, her subsequent loss. We meet Maddys mother and father, and the beguiling young Feather. We eavesdrop on Maddys conversations with the nargun, sail with her in the Albatross, watch aghast a frenzied marine battle between leviathan and kraken.

The Ghosts Child explores themes as rich and complex as life and death, love and loss, and belonging. The prose is poetic, the imagery sharp and real. At times Hartnett ploughs us into the surreal and fantastical; at others, the resoundingly ordinary. All the while we are mesmerised by her use of language and her extraordinary insight.

This is a book about juxtapositions, about searching and finding, happiness and pain, questions and answers. A poignant, lyrical, elegant, and masterfully told story, it speaks to people of all ages who have ever, or will one day, feel the pull of mystery, the enormity of love, and majesty of life.

Just last month, Hartnett was announced the 2008 winner of the esteemed Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for childrens and young adult literature. The Ghosts Child is also currently short-listed for this years CBCA awards in the older reader category. All categorised accolades aside, however, this is a book for all lovers of language and readers on the older side of young.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Square.

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