Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Stars at Oktober Bend - Glenda Millard

The Stars at Oktober Bend - Glenda Millard

there are no capital letters on the first page of the stars at oktober bend. nor, indeed, on many pages of the novel. my auto-correct does not approve but my heart jumped a little. my eye, at first, couldn’t decide whether to side with my heart or the auto-correct. soon enough, my eye was swimming along very happily with my heart.

the stars at oktober bend - Glenda Millard
I love a novel that has an unusual voice.  I also like dual narrators whose voices are clearly distinct and interesting. The Stars at Oktober Bend delivers on both counts for me and I love it just a little bit for that. I love it a little more for telling and interweaving at least two uncomfortable tales about damaged bodies and injured souls.

The main story, and indeed the narration that carries the novel, is Alice’s story. At age twelve, Alice is attacked and left with a brain injury that affects her ability to speak clearly. It probably does a few other things too because she is given “mediocre-making” pills and is considered a forever-twelve-year-old. This plays around in her head when she is fifteen and it is at this point when we pick up her story. Alice also makes fishing lures and writes little poems that nobody reads: I loved the way Alice’s narration keeps unexpectedly moving into poetry. From here, Alice’s story and her “fishbone stiches” starts to unravel and spill out. And this is where the second narrator comes in.

Manny’s voice is more upright and less enchanting than Alice Nightingale’s wounded lyricism, but as you learn more about him, it really starts to fit.  Manny is a child refugee from Sierra Leone who now lives with a couple who have taken him under their wing, offering him a safe space. But finding a safe space is difficult when he is grieving deeply but also seeking redemption.

While there is a lot going on with the narration, there is also a suspenseful plot moving things along, particularly in the closing chapters.

Issues raised in the novel include having your voice heard (and accepted, tolerated, understood), rape, child soldiers and retribution. Despite these difficult topics, the novel’s lyricism adds an enchantment and the humour in Alice’s thoughts adds moment of light relief, making it suitable for some younger readers too.

I am so pleased to have found this novel. It might well prove to be my little gem on this year’s Carnegie nominations list: lyrical, alluring and quietly heartbreaking.

The Stars at Oktober Bend is the first novel published by independent publisher, Old Barn Books.


Publication details: Old Barn Books, 2016, UK, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

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