Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Book Review - The Year The Gypsies Came, by Linzi Glass

Isn't the cover pretty?  It's ever so
exotic, but also peaceful-looking.
Sorry for the lapse in posts, everyone! I've written a few reviews for you to keep the blog alive while we try to get back into the swing of things again.

I first read this book a few years ago. I didn't really know what to expect (it was Glass's debut novel, and the cover doesn't give too much away) but I knew I wanted to read it. I hadn't heard of it at all, but that didn't matter. I've read my copy so many times by now - it's one of those books that will just keep temtping you back. Not because its a fantastically paranormal YA romance, or a roller coaster action adventure, but because it's a simple story with many layers, dealing with soemthing that has been dealt with in many books and in many people's real lives, woven together with lyrical words clearly coming from a very talented writer. It's understated, detailed and powerful, and will imprint its memory on you from the very first read.

Set in 1960s South Africa with a backdrop of harsh apartheid and spreading urbanisation, it tells the story of Emily Iris and her family - her affluent parents and her older sister Sarah, whom she idolizes. They have nightwatchman, Buza, an old wise black man; he is the mnost intelligent and knowing character in the book, and yet he has the least power and influence. His tales of Zulu warriors and old myths and legends help Emily get through the days - her parents have a stormy relationship, their screaming matches often causing Emily to hide out in Sarah's room as they wait out the fights, or retreat to the garden where Buza resides.
When things get really bad, her parents invite complete strangers to stay with them, as though ths mooth exterior that must be created to keep up appearances will somehow become deeper and more permanant and mend the cracks that are so obvious when the huge house is filled with echoes of arguments and frosty silences.

In this novel the guests are a family of travellers, a man and a woman, a menagerie of exotic possessions, animals and stories, and their two sons, Otis and Streak. Emily forms a friendship with Streak, but a devastating and tragic event changes the course of Emily's life, and that of every person around her.
Linzi Glass provides plenty of vivid descriptions and relatable anecdotes, little incidents that mkae you stop and think and re read the lines she has just portrayed to you. The book is colourful and so easy to imagine, she might as well have filled the pages with pictures and not words. The writing can sometimes seem detached and distant, but otherwise, it's a pleasure to read. I personally especially enjoy reading Buza's tales, which are as deeply researched as they are provacative. I think that's the main message of this book; it's thought-provoking, and struck a chord with me, for many reasons, but firstly and most prominently, it struck me as an excellent book, written by a master storyteller.

For me if there is one downfall, it's that of the characters, who for me are sometimes just unrealistic and hard to like, (but I do have a favouite - Buza) and  it does have the earmarks of a debut, and perhaps Linzi Glass would have changed some elements or small parts of it, as I'm sure any published writer would if they had a chance to edit their novel after it had been released, but over all I think it's great, and though it may not be for everyone, it's defintiely worth just trying it. You never know, it may appeal to you even if other books of its genre haven't.

Re-readability: 4.5/5
Writing: 4/5
Plot: 3.5/5
Characters 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5
In five words: thought provoking, beautiful, dream-like, lyrical.


No comments:

Post a Comment

If you've made it this far, you might as well look through the blog archive...