Monday 6 September 2010

The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse by Paul Collins, illustrated by Jo Thompson (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
ISBN 978-1-921665-04-2
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Clara lives in a glasshouse where she grows perfect pumpkins that attract buyers from far and wide. Like her pumpkins, Clara’s life is perfect—until the day she spies a stranger peering through her doorway. Curious, Clara wipes the mist from a perfect pane and glimpses the outside world for the first time. She is shocked to see the hills all around littered with shattered glasshouses. And so, just as the serpent brought darkness into the Garden of Eden, this strange boy has struck a dark fear into Clara’s heart: What happened to the other glasshouses? What if the same fate awaits her?

Over the coming weeks Clara becomes more and more afraid of losing her perfect world. She scours her glasshouse for cracks, insects—the slightest indication that all is not well. As a result of her manic behaviour fewer and fewer buyers come to buy her pumpkins, and before long, Clara’s wonderful world falls apart. However, when the boy returns he offers Clara something she has never been offered before—friendship and belonging.

By far the star here—both narratively and illustratively—is Clara. Thompson’s depiction of this character is almost uncanny in its accuracy: her soulful eyes in particular speak volumes. So, too, Thompson’s attention to detail, use of colour and focus are right on the money.

The Glasshouse is one of those rare stories that offers poignant insight into the human heart. Its message is Zen-like: The world is in a constant state of flux; nothing stays the same. So, too, it poses the question: Is perfection, however fleeting, worth the fear of losing it? Paradoxically, Clara’s fear is her undoing, yet it is also her saviour. And there is so much more squirreled away between Collins’s words. How he managed to say so much with so few words is really quite a feat.

I recommend this book to readers of all ages—adults included. This story is not only ageless, it is timeless.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids, her most recent title being: The Ice-cream Man (Ford St). She has been reviewing for Buzz Words since ’06.

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