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This site is dedicated to exploring children's fiction.
I write it, read it, teach it and increasingly feel the need to talk about. Please feel free to join the conversation otherwise it will be a monologue and they can get quite dull.
My current project is concerned with transformations in children's writing.
If you have any suggestions or favourite books which deal with transformation please let me know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Calypso Dreaming: Charles Butler

I haven't read anything by Charles Butler before and was taken aback by just how different this book is. It has an Alan Garnerish feel but the language is chewy; poetic but oddly sprung so that it doesn't hurtle forward as children's books usually do but seems to exist in a kind of a time of its own. This along with the floating omniscient viewpoint, the strange subject matter and slightly odd out of focus feel of much of it, makes for a haunting slightly hallucinatory read. I can't say I am entirely clear on the plot either.
It is set in another kind of now where there are outbreaks of leprosy in parts of the world, where there are healers and a sense that the rational world is on the cusp of breaking down.
Sweetholm an island with a tor and a long history of worship of St Brigan, once known as Brigan, is a place 'where the world is frayed'.Tansy and her parents are to stay on the island housesitting for Uncle John who is believed to have gone on a cruise. Her parents are trying to repair their marriage following her father's affair with a school friend's mother. The island is populated by locals,most notably the handyman,Davy Jones,and by a group of incomers staying at the Manor. This group includes Sophie and her strange daughter Calypso whose father transformed into a kind of a sea monster, Sal and her son Harper. Dominic, Sophie's brother is a healer priest who has come to the island to advise on Calypso, an uncanny child with almost lidless eyes who has supernatural talents and can dream things into being. Her doll, whose name is Bridget, talks to her in the night.
The story is obliquely told with much omitted. Tansy has herself dabbled in magic and for a time believes herself responsible for her father's infidelity. Her father absolves her of her guilt but her magical practise does not directly affect the plot. Dominic, urges Sophie, who is his sister to take Calypso away but she does not. He tries to smother the child as everyone on the island is infected by Calypso's Brigan influenced dreams. His sister fights him off and curses him after which he is turned into a bird and killed by gulls. Tansy and Harper get involved in trying to rescue Tansy's father who goes missing but in the end it is the sea monster father who saves everyone by destroying the Brigan's image and breaking her power. Did Calypso conjure him because Dominic gave her a box containing a flake of her father's scales?
Myth and fairy story and psychological horror are all mixed together in what is a fascinating book. Was it the dark power of Brigan herself that conspired to create Calypso? It is a book that definitely bears rereading.
Transformation seems to be a power of the old demonic forces, a way in which their power breaks through the rational, a manifestation of an older order part of the dream logic of myth and fairytale.

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