Friday, 22 February 2013

The Double Shadow - M's review

The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

The Double Shadow has been nominated for the Carnegie 2013 medal. This review forms part of our longlist shadowing and takes into consideration the judging criteria.
Sally Gardner has a second nomination for Maggot Moon which recently won the Costa Children’s Book of the Year 2012.

The Double Shadow starts off darkly and within pages sexual abuse is strongly suggested. At the same time, mystery and strange goings on are suggested too. Perhaps some secret histories and secret futures too....

The Double Shadow is a science fiction that is set just before World War II. It tells the story of Amaryllis whose father has built a memory machine encased in a picture palace for her seventeenth birthday present. It is built upon people’s memories and she will not age. Amaryllis is not sure she wants this, especially after she realises the significance of the double shadow which throws everything into a mindbending haze for her and the reader.

The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner
At first, I felt sorry for Amaryllis, the main character. Something awful has obviously happened to her – more than once. But then, she starts to grate on you. She’s not so nice – or dependable – and I’m not sure if her hidden traumas can justify her behaviour. Ezra, as he’s supposed to be, is the hero character – and I was holding my fingers crossed that he would stay this way. Also though, I was crossing my fingers twice for Amaryllis: once, hoping that what I think might have happened didn’t happen, and twice, hoping that she might actually be nice and forgivable for what she does to Ezra. Some have likened their relationship to that of Dicken’s Pip and Estella, and I think some of that is apparent. For me, the characters are slightly (and sometimes very) unbelievable. Why would Amaryllis be so mean to Ezra? Why would Ezra stand by her? Also, I didn’t quite get the point of Roach. However, there is character and relationship development as the novel nears its end.

The Double Shadow is a complex and challenging read. Plotwise and structurally, the novel dives straight into the action but then it winds in all sorts of ways, backwards, forwards and sometimes somewhere else. I often got confused about which character’s voice was telling the story. For me, the sub-plot of the war was superfluous. However, the language used is easy to follow.

I do wish the novel was a bit shorter. There was a little bit too much repetition going on. Also, three-quarters of the way through, the tone of the novel changes and the narrative style has become much more detached and matter-of-fact. A bit more like Lemony Snicket – because what is continually implied is dark. For me, this sits uncomfortably with the abuse that has taken place and with the tone that was originally set. However, the plot is intriguing. Although the mood is grim and confusing, I still wanted to know what happens/happened. I want to see the pieces all put together – indeed, whether they can be. Most of the loose ends are tied up sufficiently. However, the pace towards the end of the novel was accelerated and glossed over a fair few details.

This tale is a real cauldron pot with leaks. Each reader will have to decide for themselves whether the pot retains all the core ingredients to make something most delicious. For my reading palate, I think the balance of flavours wasn’t quite right....but I’m still not sure! Other readers may feel that this novel is a triumph.

Although very sensitively dealt with, I think that the themes of sexual abuse combined with the plot and structural complexity would make this a more satisfying read for older teens (although it is still a very uncomfortable read for anyone). This is definitely Young Adult rather than teen fiction.

Publication details:  2011, Indigo, London, hardback

This copy: received from the publisher for shadowing the Carnegie 2013 longlist


  1. This book looks good. Do you think I should read it now or in a few years?

    1. I'd say wait a bit. The story chops and changes a lot, and that, plus the ideas are quite challenging. But it's your choice.


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