Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Book of Story Beginnings - Kristine Kladstrup

Kristine Kladstrup's The Book of Story Beginnings is a book with an intriguing premise.

When young Lucy Martin moves into the house in Iowa that her father has inherited from his Aunt Lavonne, she hopes to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Lavonne's 14 year old brother, Oscar, back in 1914. Lavonne claims that he rowed away from the house in a boat on an ocean that magically appeared out of nowhere to lap at the garden gate. When Lucy finds the "Book of Story Beginnings" and writes in it about a girl whose father was a magician, her father suddenly becomes a magician who has invented a transforming potion. He turns himself into a crow and flies away from the stray cat who has been lurking around the house since they moved in. The cat laps up the spilled potion, then turns into Oscar, the long-lost boy. Lucy and Oscar then have to find a way to cross the magical ocean in order to bring back Lucy's father who, in the meantime, has flown away to the land created by Oscar when he wrote one of his story beginnings in the magical book.

These characters are interesting and Oscar's plight when he is transformed back into a boy and discovers that his entire family is long dead is portrayed realistically and sympathetically. This is an interesting investigation into the power of writing and story and Kladstrup is good at going into the nature of what a story is and how authors must sometimes feel when their characters take on lives of their own. Just what makes a good piece of fiction ? Why does one story beginning work better than another ? The book takes the idea of creating magical worlds to its logical extreme, but the imaginings that Oscar and Lucy come up with, like a king who loves cats and a queen who loves birds, are not really detailed enough once the characters actually encounter them. We're told how shocked Oscar is that his written world is as detailed and elaborate as it is, but the world isn't actually detailed very clearly to the reader. Whilst it's interesting to think about how real a fictional world that you have created is, this book doesn't do very well at showing that.

The convenience of the magical objects in this book also strains credulity - they're definitely Macguffins (to borrow Hitchcock's term). For example, Lucy's Great Aunt Lavonne was able to construct everything from transforming potions to a travelling talisman in her laboratory and these objects work without a hitch when employed by Lucy, her father and Oscar at various points, but they were apparently never used by Lavonne herself to find her long-lost brother. Which I find just a little incredible !

The Book of Story Beginnings is also available from Amazon.com.

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