Monday, February 26, 2007

The Unwritten Girl

The Unwritten Girl, by James Bow

Young YA/Canadian/Fantasy

The Unwritten Girl is a bit of an enigma. I'm not sure how to place it. It is a fast-paced, exciting, adventure story ideally suited to fans of Lemony Snicket or Chasing Vermeer. But, on the other hand, it is chock full of literary references that might be of more interest to an older, better read bunch. The main characters are young, but the situation in which they find themselves is a bit older. Which is not to say that the situations are "adult", but that they find themselves with a lot of responsibility.

As the story begins, 12 year old Rosemary Watson is feeling like a bit of a Meg Murry style outcast at school. She doesn't fit in, and her stories about her weird family - in this case her older brother Theo - make her something of a laughing stock. But, she is soon befriended by Peter, a new boy who doesn't really fit the social mold either. But then, as things are beginning to look up, Theo arrives home from university seemingly captivated by a book - he is literally entranced by it, unable to tear his eyes away. There is something wrong here, and it soon emerges that only Rosemary, with the help of her new friend Peter (this story's Calvin O'Keefe) along to help her out.

Rosemary and Peter travel into a fantasy land of fiction in order to rescue Theo - and this is where the story gets interesting. You see, the land of fiction is truly The Land of Fiction - the land, seemingly, populated by the characters in the books that Rosemary has read, or begun to read. She is a notorious non-finisher of books, and this, as it turns out, is a major problem. It is in the Land of Fiction that we get the really neat literary references. Rosemary's guide is Puck, of A Midsummer Night's Dream fame. We get references to Oz, to Through the Looking Glass, to Murder on the Orient Express, and to many other stories - many of which I probably didn't catch - all bound up in a very Madeleine L'Englesque world.

The main characters are appealing. Both Rosemary and Peter are intelligent, thoughtful, and well-drawn. I am looking forward to seeing their relationship develop in the second book, due out sometime this year. What I would like to have seen further developed is the Land of Fiction. I was left with a lot of questions about how the world functions - I want to know - is it inhabited only by characters in the books that whoever is visiting it has read? Or, if not, how does the reader have an effect on the characters? I want more about this world. Does it make a reappearance in the second book? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I think this is a promising novel from a first-time author. The real strength of the book is in the concept, which is very creative and very exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing what else this author has up his excessively interesting sleeves. An enjoyable, and a quick, read.


False Prophet said...

Not only are the characters from books Rosemary's read, by amazing coincidence they're all in the public domain. ;-)

James Bow said...

Heh! (In response to False Prophet's comment).

I'm glad you enjoyed the book and thank you for the kind and fair review. I hope you like "Fathom Five" as well. We don't go back to the Land of Fiction, but hopefully the world they do visit is more fully formed. I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts comparing the two.

MadJenny said...

Thanks James! I really enjoyed reading it. And I kind of want to visit the Land of Fiction. I love the cover for the next book, it is really evocative.

James Bow said...

False Prophet is right, by the way: I did dance around copyright issues. Puck was pretty safe what with Shakespeare being dead for 400 years or so. The rest, including Sherlock Holmes, had to be alluded to, just to be safe.

Among the references you might not have gotten:

- Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House"
- Metropolis (The City of Marble and Chrome is a mashup of that and Camazotz)
- Various kids programs on TV Ontario (okay, they're not books, but they inspired me, including that one with the detective in the kangaroo suit as it was the only disguise they had in his size... what was the title of that?)
- I was also heavily influenced by the British TV series "Doctor Who" and "Sapphire and Steel"

False Prophet said...

Thanks for being a good sport about it, James. It's a time-honoured practice in writing, I know, and it can be tricky--for example, Alan Moore's excellent graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (let us not speak of the atrocity that was the film), Fu Manchu is a central villain, and yet can't be identified as such because of copyright issues. Anyway, your book sounds interesting and I'd like to read it as soon as I get through this big pile of other books I have to read.

btw, the show you're thinking of is Math Patrol. I had completely forgotten about it until your comment reminded me. Thanks!

MadJenny said...

Thanks for the extra details James! I love finding out more about what's behind stories. It is like the extra stuff on DVDs - makes you feel like an insider. But, it does make me feel terribly poorly read - I've never actually read a Sherlock Holmes! I've seen some of the films and tv programs, but not read it. So, your book will push me to read more! How's that for a compliment!

pinkyaliya said...
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