27 September 2010

Book of the Week (74): "My Name Is Mina" by David Almond

My Name Is Mina tells you more about the art of writing than most university courses. It’s also a treatise on how not to fit in – and how sometimes not fitting in is the sanest thing you can do with your life. It’s also a book about about words and flight, nature and nurture, thought and reaction. To most people, though, its most important aspect is that it’s the prequel to David Almond’s much-acclaimed novel, Skellig.

Mina doesn’t fit. Her dad’s dead, her mum is lovely, lonely and kind. Mina sits in trees, writes words, writes nothing, and thinks about the universe, about life, death and the bones of birds. She is wise far beyond her years and yet still a small girl, figuring out each day one breath at a time. Her story is told lightly, skimming through her truth, her lies, her understanding of her self with great skill. David Almond is here, on the page. He’s the teacher who sees her, he’s her mother, he’s the blackbirds in the tree and the shadowy cat, Whisper. Mina says – take a line for a walk and you’re drawing. Take words for a walk and you’re writing. Here are the kernels of creativity – even blank pages are crammed with meaning. In Mina, stars sing and bones rattle – and it is as if every single story that David Almond has ever written is held in here.

Did I like it? Of course. Did I think it a good gook to read after Skellig? Yes. Did I think it a good book to read before Skellig? No. Absolutely not. The depth of this book takes away from Skellig something that needs to be experienced there for the first time. I don’t want any of Skellig’s mysteries de-mystified. Read Skellig first should be emblazoned on the cover.

But read this too. For here is joy. Is it a book for kids? Of that I’m less sure. I think adults will love it, some teens will fall for its myth and meandering, its plotless prose and immense notions. Kids? Not so much. Does that make this less of a wonder? Not really.

Recommended by Leonie Flynn

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