Publisher: Orion Children’s Books | Published 5th March 2015 | Edition: Paperback
The back of the book blurb:
War clouds gather over Britain.
Amaryllis Ruben is hiding a secret even she does not understand. In a bluebell wood stands a picture palace. Her father built it to house his invention; one that could change the war-torn world forever. He plans to give it to her on her seventeenth birthday.
But it’s a present Amaryllis doesn’t want, and in it is a past she must come to terms with and a boy whose name she can’t remember…
Let me start my saying that the intro blurb above does not do this book justice IN ANY WAY.
From the first page you step into a whole new ethereal world created by Sally Gardner. We are introduced to a young girl who has found herself in a surreal environment, a room with a flickering green light which prevents her from remembering, her memories are all but gone. Where is she? Nothing makes sense, but she has an inkling that something is very, very wrong.
Amaryllis is searching for something that is missing from her life. Without an identity or memory of her past will she find it?
Set during the 1940’s and on the cusp of the Second World War, Amaryllis seems like an attention seeking and spoilt teen, in the absence of her mother, her father gives her everything; a nice home, a private education but he is rarely around and is often working on his special invention.
The ‘wayward’ girl rewards the nice lifestyle she’s been provided with by sneaking off school and getting herself expelled and developing quite an attitude. But no one knows that she conceals a secret that she can’t confide in anyone, about the awful day she drank champagne with a ‘charming’ man by the name of Maurice Sands.
She becomes home educated by Miss Bright, meets Ezra Pascoe, a neighbour’s boy, whom she taunts and teases and is generally unpleasant to. All the while her father’s assistant is ever watchful, ever present and announces that on her seventeenth birthday her father has a special gift for her – even though he’s not there to give it to her personally.
His gift is The Picture House, something her father has been working on for years in the grounds of their home. This is a place that holds mind recordings from people in the village, as well as Amaryllis. It’s a palace of memories where all the bad ones have been filtered out for her. Inside this time-paused-bubble his daughter will be cocooned away from the War. But fathers can’t protect their daughters from everything, no matter how hard they try.
The Picture House has attracted interest from the Government. They don’t want it to fall into the enemy’s hands and they go to great lengths to prevent this from happening.
Before I knew it I’d stepped into an eroding illusion of Amaryllis’s world. There’s far too much to describe: People are sucked into this strange place. Characters conceal dark pasts. There’s a mysterious White Tiger prowling the interior of The Picture House. And the familiar childhood tune of the Teddy Bears Picnic playing over in Amaryllis’s mind at intervals is quite unnerving.
Although it’s ‘fantastic’ enough to be a fairy tale I couldn’t describe it as such – it’s a much darker story of being lost and being loved.
To summarise, it’s loosely akin to an amnesic Alice in Wonderland, passing through Narnia in a customised T.A.R.D.I.S., while German bombs start to fall like rain.
This unique, vivid story may not appeal to everyone, but I certainly found it to be an unexpected and engrossing distraction and I’m keen to explore more of this author’s work.
(Many thanks to the publisher for providing a paperback copy of this book for an honest review (via Leah @UTBookblog)
You can follow the author on Twitter: @TheSallyGardner | Publisher: @the_orionstar