Elray is celebrating her sixth birthday when her parents die in a freak accident at the fairground's Tunnel of Love. Elray only escapes because she has reached up to touch the moon.
She is then sent to live with her two unconventional uncles - Harwood the macho photographer and 'Aunt' Ajax, the cross dresser. Her life completely changes as Elray adapts to her new surroundings, with feuding uncles that don't agree on how to raise their niece.
Then Irish lawyer Rena appears, ready to mount a lawsuit against the fairground where the accident occurred. She plays an important role in the unconventional family unit, determined to win her case and unearthing a few skeletons in the family closet along the way
* Characters *
Ajax obviously makes the most interesting study. Thirty-four years old 'she' is a drama queen with strange ideas on how best to deal with Elray. She thinks feeding her the putrid water from vases after the flowers are long gone will lead Elray to immortality and perfection. Hmmm
Harwood is the quieter uncle, unrelated to Ajax and a character who remains very much in the background. He travels the world on business and is quite often absent from his niece's life. But Elray and Harwood share a special bond.
Rena is the feisty Irish lawyer, plain speaking and quick to take charge. She fits into the family's strange lifestyle easily and becomes close to both uncles.
Elray is a trusting and polite child. She too has flights of fancy - the scar left on her arm from the accident is her link to the spirit world and through this she 'talks' to her dead parents. All this is related to an eager Rena, a pale Ajax and a gloomy Harwood, who don't quite know what to make of it all
* What's good *
The characters are brilliant, diverse and so different in every way that it's impossible to see how they fit together. Yet they do. 'The good times were gathering. We were beating down the sadness. I could feel it'.
Each chapter is a story in itself - part of Elray's childhood and it's told in a quirky and original way, as only a child sees the world.
A minor character, and one of my favourites, is Hansueli. He is appointed as Elray's 'doctor' and their relationship is quickly developed as they conduct their sessions in various different languages. When he speaks English, the accent goes haywire as he gets upset!
Elray is a dreamer and her stories blur into reality. She worries about this but Hansueli tells her "Typical escape fantasies uf adolescents suffering dee unbearable trauma uf every day life. Nutting to worry about".
Delightfully told, this is a kid's story for grown ups. Elray is immediately likeable and an accomplished storyteller. We follow her from a child to a teenager, meeting her friends and long lost relatives along the way.
Stories are interwoven with letters from various family members, found years after Elray has grown up, and secrets are revealed.
This is a very colourful book - descriptions are vivid and emotions laid bare. Elray's friend Raoul flits in and out of her life, firstly as a child when they practice the 'art of dying' to give them immortality and then as he grows older their friendship flounders as he finds a girlfriend.
Elray is a loner and because of this, her friendship with Raoul is very special to her. She experiences loyalty, trust and then separation and jealousy as they grow older and their lives take different paths.
Her life is filled with love from her makeshift family and her imagination is allowed to blossom through her love of making home movies.
While parts of the book are fantasy like, other sections are painfully realistic and as Elray gets older she realises her relatives are as vulnerable and confused as she is and she becomes their protector.
* Negatives *
I recently read a review from 'The Guardian' that pretty much panned this book, saying that none of the characters suffered any consequences and nobody is affected by events - that 'nothing really happens' (it does!). I actually found this to be a positive, rather than a negative as I do read my fair share of depressing books! It makes a welcome change to see people that don't dwell on past events. Besides, sheesh, this * is * a work of fiction and it's something you can easily get lost in if you want to.
Well I always say I'm not fussy. There wasn't much I didn't like about this story. Yes the characters do have silly names (Elray's parents included) but this is all part and parcel of a book that is obviously trying to make its mark. Would 'Aunt' Ajax have worked with a name like John? .... Exactly!
* What I thought *
I loved it. Chapters aren't overly long and are broken up frequently so it's easy to read. The narrative writing style flows distinctly. For a debut novel it's original and the reader really gets a feel for the characters and their unusual home life.
I received this as a birthday gift a number of months ago but would have gladly picked this book out for myself, just from reading the few sentences on the back cover.
* Other info *
Transworld Publishers Ltd (UK)
RRP £6.99 (£5.49 play.com)
* Verdict *
Escape into Elray's imaginary world and decide for yourself what is real and what is not. Remember: anything is possible!
5 stars to Leslie Marshall. Be sure to look out for this one.
Thanks for reading.
Funny, fast-paced Novel. Marshall is an insightful awful who brings her extremely colourful characters to light so well that you can practically see them breathing.