It's been all-go in Mafioso land, what with the eldest mini-maf graduating from high school in less than two weeks; middle mini-maf having just completed a middle school run of The Sound of Music; and mini mini-maf still in mourning because of the Portland Trailblazers defeat in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Also, as my one reader pointed out last week, I am in the midst of querying--having parted ways with my agent in early January. The Don has told me his cousin Alfonso is available and only takes 50% of any deals made, but I'm holding out for better terms (and an agent who actually reads!)
Those of you who know me well, know that I have somewhat of a morbid streak. This manifests especially when an author dies. Immediately after reading their obituary, I want to read all their books--even, nay especially--if I've never heard of them before.
This is what happened with MIDNIGHT BLUE, the absolutely stunning novel by Pauline Fisk, an English author who died in January. Her obituary in The Guardian described her as an author "with a strong sense of place and a rare gift for blending the natural with the supernatural in ways that made the latter seem entirely credible."
Now, I am also a writer who loves to blend the natural with the supernatural. My books are set in modern times, but there's always something a little "off" in the world--objects that allow one to time travel, or ghosts. So I knew I had to read Midnight Blue right away (or at least right after I finished Moby Dick for my book group.) I wasn't disappointed.
What It's About:
Bonnie, a girl torn between the harsh reality of her mother's weaknesses and her grandmother's strong will escapes her home one day by sneaking into her neighbor's hot air balloon. But instead of flying into the clouds and back down, she lands in another world, something like her own, but both kinder and somehow much more terrifying. She's not sure if she can ever leave this nearly parallel world and return to her own. And if she did, she isn't sure she'll be able to bring back with her the sense of warmth and love she has grown to cherish. Amazingly, she does both.
"It began as it always did with sweet, solitary notes of music that called to her from somewhere beyond the sky, a single piper's cry that reached down for her and scooped her over the roof tops and streets, office blocks and electric pylons, railway stations, shops and parks."
Why I Loved It:
As I mentioned above, Fisk's world is a recognizable one, but one that is suffused with magic. Her writing is lyrical, and her sense of place is extraordinary. Here she is, describing the hill in which Bonnie has landed with her balloon:
"The holly grove was ancient. The trees were twisted and dark, their branches tortuous. They formed a dense, gnarled ring with a large grass-and-moss clearing in the centre. You slipped into that ring and it was as if you'd entered another world....Long strands of fleece hung like listless washing on a line. Last dots of pink foxglove wilted in their shade."
There is also great suspense, because the people who inhabit this parallel world are people who Bonnie recognizes. Dad is like her neighbor, Michael; Mum is like her own mother, Maybelle; and Arabella is like Bonnie herself. Into this world comes the figure whom Bonnie fears most, her domineering grandmother, whom she calls "Grandbag." This new manifestation of Grandbag--Grandmother Marvell--has a magic mirror which can suck out a person's soul and leave them as a husk, a weird approximation of themselves. The novel ventures into dark places--literally!--as Bonnie and her friend, Jim, the shadow boy, try and outwit Grandmother Marvell and rescue Arabella from a horrible fate in the mirror.
This novel will stay with me for a very long time, and I look forward to reading more of Pauline Fisk's work.
About The Author:
Pauline Fisk was born in London in 1948, and moved to Shropshire with her husband, David Davies, in 1972. She wrote 11 books for children, including Midnight Blue and Sabrina Fludde (2002), often considered her most ambitious work. As she said of herself: “My whole life has been spent trying to bring together real life and the world of fantasy, in particular by finding new and interesting ways of expressing a sense of the magical in my writing. Ever since I was five years old, hunting down fairies in the back alley behind my parents’ house, a sense of more to life than meets the eye has been part of who I am. When I was a child, life was one big fairytale. That was how I felt. But how to get into that fairytale?”
Pauline Fisk had three daughters and two sons. She died on January 25th, 2015.