ARC, Books

Book 99: The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen

Yesterday I wrote about reading my first Advance Reader’s Copy of a novel and promised the review and here it is. As mentioned yesterday, this is an advance copy provided by the publisher and I did not receive compensation to review this novel. The views and opinions in this post are my own.

It’s hard to know where to begin, thus yesterday’s post, but I’ll just delve right in. As with most of the novels I read I’ve only selected a few things to focus on for this post.

Overall, I thought the novel was interesting and well written. Judith, raised by her religious father, is a 10-year old living in England and is facing what she believes (and her religion often believes at various intervals) is the end times. Told from Judith’s point of view the story did have some issues occasionally, but this worked well for most of the novel. Her language, and even her emotional reactions/descriptions, often times switched into what I felt was an older child. Although described as quick and advanced for her age and not having habits like most children, I can see why Judith’s voice would come across older, but sometimes it was just too much of a stretch (and not like she was mimicking adults, but almost like her voice was lost in the writer’s voice).

However, in contrast to this the way McCleen wrote Judith’s interpretations of religion – how she understands faith and the bible and her actual conversations with ‘god’ – are spot on. McCleen hasn’t given Judith too much adult cynicism (or even fanaticism) for religion and has allowed for just enough youthful enthusiasm for the novel’s events to take place in a stressing time and become truly believable through her eyes. I found myself wanting Judith to be wrong in her beliefs, but at the same time completely entrapped by her own belief that she was speaking with ‘god’ and causing miracles.

The minor characters were mostly believable and provided a good amount of depth to the story. I felt there was a bit too much time before we learned about Judith’s mom, but her absence and the absence of information about her added to the tension of the story. If there were two characters I wish we knew more about they would be Mrs. Pew and Judith’s father. Although we get a good idea (emotionally at least) of each, I wanted to know more about them – what else it was that caused them to be the way they were (we do learn a good bit about Judith’s father – but I wanted more!).

So far I haven’t mentioned Judith’s ‘Land of Decoration’ and I think it’s hard to talk about it. I was both fascinated and slightly confused by this idea of a miniature world created from bits and scraps of randomly found stuff, but it served its purpose. It served as a great plot vehicle and definitely helped put the reader into the mind of a peculiar 10-year old. From the actions of collecting the scraps which became the ‘Land of Decoration’ to the vivid dreams and thoughts Judith has in the ‘Land of Decoration’ it serves as a separate but parallel world. I won’t describe what happens but it also serves as the climactic point of the loss of innocence which is vitally important for a novel told from a youth narrator’s perspective.

So to close off this lengthy review – I want to talk about the comparisons to other authors I’ve made and other reviewer’s have made. The novel does have hints of Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – if only for the industrial town, the artistry and the religious upbringing (it has been a long time since I read this), of Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – the 10-year old narrator with the tangential references, and Smith’s White Teeth – growing up in an incredibly religious community facing end times. I definitely think the novel deserves comparisons to these works as McCleen (whether knowinlgy/willingly or not) has taken the best of those novels and turned them into her own and created the fascinating and, to be honest, eerily haunting ‘Land of Decoration.’ However, this is only her first novel and the others have done it better (Emma Donoghue’s 5-year old narrator, Jack, in Room is quite possibly the best I’ve read to date), but what McCleen has is potential. I will definitely have to keep an eye on her career and what she writes next.

Recommendation: Although there were some issues with the novel, overall it is definitely worth a read. The ending specifically was harrowing and almost had me in tears. When you take into account this is Grace McCleen’s debut novel and its unique perspective I thought it was very well written and worth a read.

Opening Line: “In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.”

Closing Line: “Of course, they will have the time of their lives because the view will be marvelous; it’s coming down that is the difficult thing. So always leave something attached. If you want to go higher, just let out more string.” (Whited out.)


4 thoughts on “Book 99: The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen”

  1. An interesting story, it seems like you were right in there and wanted to ask those characters a few questions yourself. It’s interesting that way writers today often delay introducing a character or give minimal information in the beginning to build intrigue and tension and we find ourselves waiting and wanting to hear more, I found that as well with ‘The Game of Thrones’ with each chapter being a different character, I often found myself wondering about another character and thinking, when are we going to hear more about them. AS Byatt’s child character in ‘Ragnarok’ is interesting for her ‘nonbelief’ but awareness of what she is supposed to believe in, but she was far more drawn towards the myths, though kept quiet about it. Great review Geoff, look forward to reading more ARC’s from you, one of your choosing would be great!


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