Verdict: Odd and good. More of both than I was expecting.
Okay okay. I admit that I should have read The Land of Decoration (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) a while ago, when Mumsy told me to. It’s really quite good. I resisted it because it’s an odd little book. It’s about a little girl called Judith growing up in an unknown period in British history. Richard Dawkins exists but computers don’t seem to, and many of the adult characters work in a factory. Judith and her father are members of a church of Brothers that takes them out to witness to the townspeople and isolates Judith tremendously at her school. Her escape from all this is a world she has built in her room, which she calls The Land of Decoration. One day, faced with the prospect of being possibly drowned by a bully at her school, she sprinkles snow all over The Land of Decoration, and the next morning snow appears, and school is canceled. Matters proceed from there.
I expected, I think, that The Land of Decoration would be cutesy. In some ways it is — Judith is at times a little too ingenuous, even given her extreme isolation, and there’s not quite enough normalcy to give context to her weirdness. But the book is also dark. Judith hears a voice that she thinks is God, telling her that she is chosen and special, but she doesn’t find it very helpful. E.g.:
“Listen, young lady: Your power depends on you doing exactly what I tell you. That’s the deal. You won’t get far without Me.”
“I’m sorry!” I said. “I’ll try to be more careful. But I don’t understand: You weren’t like this when I talked to Father or Uncle Stan.”
“That was different,” said God. “I didn’t foresee any problems with them.”
“Father didn’t believe me at all!”
“Precisely,” said God. “I mean — more fool him.” He coughed.
While she deals with the mystical implications of her newfound powers, Judith’s father is facing a strike at the factory where he works. He does not go on strike, and the sons of those who have retaliate against him and against Judith. The police cannot, or will not, help protect them, and Judith’s father feels angry and powerless.
The Land of Decoration owes its oomf to the parallel sufferings of Judith and her father. They are both suffering for their fidelity to what they believe is right, and they both feel helpless to protect themselves from the anger of people who believe they are wrong. More painfully, they are both in the midst of a crisis of faith. But they have no ability to relate to each other. Their wrenching separateness, and my worry about whether it would ever end, was for me the central tension of the book.
If, as I said, a little ingenuous at times, Judith is generally a wonderful narrator. She and her father read the Bible every day and ponder its message, and her own ponderings, combined with things she has been told by various adults, are often wonderful (but reasonably ten-year-old-ish) reflections on the ways of the world and her own existence and the existence of God. They make this book, which on its face sounds a little generic (precocious child narrating events she doesn’t understand), kind of sui generis.
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