Monday 29 August 2011

Only Ever Always

Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 987-1-74175-044-7
Reviewed by Thalia Kalkipsakis

When faced with the prospect of losing a beloved uncle, Claire retreats into a dreamscape. It is a parallel place layered behind Claire’s but crumbling and rotten. The objects, even the people, are broken or ‘half used up’.

Here we find Clara, the dreamer’s self and phantom other, who is faced with her own loss, not only of her friend and carer, but also of her refuge in this eerie and unsafe world.

Doubles such as these, or two sides to a coin, permeate the story, adding layers and bringing potency to the people and objects in both worlds.

It is reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in the way that characters slip between mutually existing words that are layered behind one another, in this case via toxic silvery bubbles of music that seem as dangerous and beautiful as mercury. Clara’s resourcefulness in the face of adults bent on their own agendas is also reminiscent of Pullman.

But it is Russon’s depiction of the dreamscape that makes this story stand apart. Her language is both poetic and unsettling, very much like a dream. Objects become potent with weight of emotional symbolism in this place where everything, even the very ground, is slimy and uncertain.

Claire’s passages, set in the ‘real’ world, are written in second person, which has the effect of making the reader feel that she, in turn, is dreaming Claire’s story. This is both powerful and deliberate, to the point where Russon momentarily brings herself into the story, addressing her character directly and telling her, ‘I am a dreamer too.’ How fortunate are we as readers to witness such a dream.

Recommended for readers twelve and over, there is much to be discovered in Only Ever Always, depending on what the dreamer, or reader, brings to the story. It might even offer solace for anyone facing grief of their own. At its heart, this story is ultimately about hope, grief and love, and finding the courage to accept all three.

Thalia’s latest book is called Head Spinners: six stories to twist your brain ( 

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