A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I’m not entirely sure where I read about this book. I’m not usually convinced by quotes from the Guardian by Philip Ardagh saying “It is nothing short of extraordinary”, or “engrossing novel” from the Sunday Telegraph, or “This is quite possibly the most amazing work of children’s fiction I have read in the last two years” from the Bookbag… I’m pretty sure it would have had to be from somewhere else. It might have been that I was wondering what everyone was going on about… but it doesn’t matter now, what is important is that I bought it, read it and am now going to share it with you.
Set at the start of the Second World War, Rowan has a few “issues”. He’s a slightly troubled boy, prone to lashing out and he has a voice in his head telling him what to do. After he breaks his younger sister’s fingers, Rowan is sent to a mental institution to be treated for schizophrenia. This is not a decision taken lightly by his parents and I felt their raw anguish at the choice they had to make.
Whilst in the hospital, Rowan is one of the first patients to be subjected to electro-convulsive therapy. The challenging part of this is that his doctor is called von Metzer and he is a German.
Rowan the Strange is a hugely compelling and fascinating story. The comparisons are drawn between the mental illness of a child patient being treated in such a crude and excruciating way while the seemingly sane staff were cruel and bitter and in the outside world men were killing each other in the name of war.
The novel is chock full of the most wonderfully drawn characters. His German doctor, von Metzer, is so kind and caring while the pretty young nurse Rowan develops a crush on turns out to be…well… less than nice. This turning stereotypes on its head is a theme throughout the book and one of the signals to make you think more deeply about the book and the situation as a whole. I absolutely loved the feisty Dorothea who saw people’s Guardian Angels and had Joan of Arc sitting on her own shoulder.
One of the things I loved most, and incredibly skilfully pulled off by Julie Hearn is the multiple viewpoints. Although the book is mostly told from Rowan’s perspective, we see glimpses of the thoughts and actions of the other characters and since every one has an impact on the other it is fascinating to join in with their thought processes.
There are so many things to love about this quiet, yet often violent book. The writing is exemplary and the characters incredibly alive on the page and there are shades of light and dark to keep you moved and the give you pause for reflection. I would consider this a very important book and one I would encourage you all to read.
Damnit… those big reviews were right after all!