Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Andromeda Klein and the beauty of wacky, rambling narration

I have just finished the extremely excellent Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman. I ordered the hardcover from the US, because I was too impatient to wait for it in a local or paperback edition. Frank Portman's first book King Dork is a favourite of mine, and I have been waiting eagerly for years for him to write another.

So I was shocked when I struggled to get into the first few chapters of the book, and then relieved when I eventually fell in love with it somewhere around the fourth chapter. Appropriately enough, Chapter Four begins with this sentence: `Most magical writing is deliberately obscure, designed to hide crucial matters from the uninitiated, yet reveal them to those who know how to read the texts properly.'

And that's a pretty good description of the adorable Andromeda Klein's character. AK is written in the third person, but the reader only gets an internal insight into the main character, Andromeda (Wiki has just told me this is called `third person limited' - I'm not great at the different narrative modes). Andromeda is a hard-of-hearing and occult-obsessed teen who nurtures her own lexicon of mangled and misheard phrases, and refers constantly to a large number of esoteric texts, theories and historical personages. She keeps most people at a safe distance with this kind of constant and compulsive occult nerdery, despite wishing she could fit in more.

This kind of narration can be pretty frustrating at first, but once you get it, once you're in there with the nerdy Ms. Klein, you never want to leave! She is a superb character: funny, tender-hearted and borderline delusional. The events of the book unravel in a seemingly haphazard and confused rollercoaster that only begins to make sense towards the end (a bit like the teenage years in general). I think of this book as being kind of like muesli slice (let's bear in mind here that I love muesli slice) - a dense and chewy treat that takes time to consume.

I often hear comments that YA books have to grab teenagers attention and hold it with fast-moving plots, and clarity and neat conclusions.* But I think always taking that approach underestimates teenagers, and neglects the beauty of obfuscation and taking a little time zig-zagging from Point A to Point B. Andromeda Klein - read it!

* I think I can hear my editor screaming.

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