Published By: Henry Holt & Co.
Length: 306 pp.
Reason for Reading: Intriguing storyline
Oh, boy. Another rough one. It's been a week since I finished The Land of Decoration and I hoped that letting it roll around in my head a bit would help me sort through my feelings, but I think it's just one of those books that I'm going to have mixed feelings about.
Brief Summary: 10-year-old Judith McPherson is considered weird by her fellow students. She and her father live in an English working-class village where her father works at the local factory and preaches that the "end times" are coming, in his off hours. When not preaching, he is distracted and brusque. Judith is not allowed to do "worldly" things like watch TV or join in on certain group activities at school so she spends much of her time in her bedroom, where she has created her own little world from bits and pieces of trash.
Her life-long immersion in religion and strict family rules sets Judith apart and she is viciously bullied at school yet completely unable to communicate with her father in order to share what's happening to enlist his help. As the book opens, Judith is trying to figure out how she can keep herself from getting dunked in a toilet. When trouble at work sets Judith's father at odds with his co-workers for strike-breaking, he becomes a victim of a different kind of bullying. As their problems escalate, Judith becomes convinced that she has God-given powers and can hear God speak while at the same time her father experiences a dramatic crisis of faith.
The descriptions I've read about this book are very vague and I'm not entirely certain what constitutes "spoiler" territory so I'll just caution you to skip down to the "recommendation" if you're planning to read the book soon or concerned that I might give too much away. I've tried not to write anything spoilery and will certainly not reveal the ending.
What I liked about The Land of Decoration:
I'm not even sure why this is the case but The Land of Decoration is so compelling the pages absolutely flew. It's a little dreamy in writing style. Till the end, I often questioned whether or not Judith was letting her imagination run away with her. Could she really hear God or would making conversation with God a reality change the book from general fiction to paranormal? Was she mentally unbalanced or wildly imaginative? In fiction, of course, anything is possible.
Judith was utterly fascinating and I absolutely had to know what was going to happen to her and her father -- whether the bullies were going to win, the world was really going to end or both of them would end up in restraints in some mental facility. The Land of Decoration is certainly a unique and stunningly gripping story. It is also harrowing, truly one of the most frightening books I've ever read because bullies are all too real and every bit as freakishly dangerous as they're portrayed.
Apart from the fact that the book is a page-turner because of the escalating tension, I did love the fact that the author was willing to portray two people who are deeply religious because I've read far too many books with narrators who are either atheist or agnostic, lately. Sometimes I wonder if so many authors have chosen to make their characters not believe in anything at all because it's the lazy option. Portraying characters with strong beliefs but treating them with respect is a steep challenge in a world where religion is often associated with lack of intelligence.
What I disliked about The Land of Decoration:
Here's the part that I'm concerned might be a bit spoilery.
I'm not so sure she did pull off the "respect" bit. On the one hand, it is perfectly understandable that Judith's father should have a crisis of faith. He is a single father struggling to make ends meet and at work he takes what he considers the only appropriate action -- both in regard to his beliefs and to ensure that his child does not starve -- but doing what he thinks is right becomes so dangerous that there is a point you're not sure either will survive.
Instead of a true relationship with God and a normal, healthy belief set in which God is merely a part of their lives, the religious aspect is way over the top and at the heart of the little family of two is an undercurrent of overwhelming grief. The exaggerated religious immersion makes for an interesting story but it sadly does serve to dismiss the concept of religion as a perfectly normal and ultimately strengthening part of life. The two characters' Christianity is radically, irrationally skewed. That kind of bugged me but I can't say why without spoiling the ending.
On the plus side, The Land of Decoration delves into such touchy territory that it could make for an interesting discussion.
I can't fathom rating this book because my feelings are totally mixed. The Land of Decoration is a unique, enthralling story in which a small family's terror grows to the point that if it were a movie I, for one, would have been covering my eyes. I found it simultaneously impossible to put down and painful to read. At first, I liked the fact that the author was courageous enough to make her characters religious. But, ultimately, I felt a little uncomfortable with the fact that they were so radical that in the end it is implied that in order to become a normal family they had no choice but to drop their beliefs entirely. <---definitely a spoiler. Highlight that part at your own risk. For those who don't want to read the spoiler, I'll just say that I loved and hated the ending.
This is one of those cases in which the word "review" does not fit. "Reader reaction" works. As a work of writing, I thought the book was excellent. Solid, stylish writing, exaggerated but believable characterization and a unique storyline made this an above-average read from a strictly technical standpoint.
In other news:
I had a great week. We were traveling and I may elaborate but I'll save details for another day. I finished three books, last week: The Land of Decoration, Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte and Fever by Lauren DeStefano (which I purchased). Reviews of the latter two are forthcoming. It may take me a while to get back in the swing of things, here. I somehow managed to get another cold (2 colds in 3 weeks!), which is just flat weird. I can't even remember the last time I had a cold, prior to this year. So, I'm not in top form but hope to be back to visiting other bloggers, soon!
How was your week?