I like Billy Joel. There, I've said it. The music of the multi award winning, rock and roll hall of fame member who wrote such popular tunes as Uptown Girl, Piano Man and Just The Way You Are makes me happy.
Really? Billy Joel? Others may be sniggering behind your hands.
What has this got to do with Maggot Moon? Many more may be shouting.
As you can see, I'm a long-haired guy who's quite fond of purple. When I'm not writing I sing and play guitar in a rock band. My iTunes is crammed with Muse, Metallica, The Killers, System of a Down, Kaiser Chiefs … you get the idea. Piano-based rock and roll pop from the 70s and early 80s should be something I hate. But it's not. I like it, and that's that.
Now when a friend whose opinion I respect greatly in all matters literary told me I should definitely read Maggot Moon, I bought it straight away without even looking at it (we were standing near a book stall at the time), shoved it into my rucksack and went on with my day.
A week later I pulled it out and read the jacket notes, wondering what it was actually about. First off is a quote from the wonderful Meg Rosoff
'Dazzling, chilling, breathtaking. A perfect book.'
High praise indeed, but what's it about?
Hector and Standish are friends.
Nice. I like odd names. I own one myself.
It then goes on, and this is where the alarm bells started to ring.
… live together in Zone Seven … the Motherland can keep them … under surveillance … moon landing …
And finishes with
A powerfully original and moving story.
We'll see …
Without giving anything away, the main aspect of the setting and a key element of the plot are concepts that I've seen explored before … a lot. The BBC have produced plays about the events that Gardner is hinting lead to the dominance of the Motherland. Sci-fi comic stories and time travel shorts have mused on what would have happened if … And I even remember a sketch on the Two Ronnies show in the 70s that featured a similar set up. There are documentaries and websites aplenty loaded with evidence and conspiracy theories that back up real life claims – seen it, done it, poo-pooed it. On paper, I shouldn't have found anything engaging or exciting in this book.
But I absolutely love it! Like Mr Joel, it makes me happy (sad, excited, dismayed). In Sally Gardner's hands, the voice of Standish and his view of the events and situations lifts the whole story to such soaring heights that I don't mind that I've seen these concepts before. In fact I barely even noticed them. Dramatic, emotion packed moments are handled so deftly and originally that they make me want to rethink my own writing.
Julian Crouch's stark illustrations that run throughout the book add a whole extra dimension of beautifully sinister grubbiness.
I have a section on one of my bookshelves for things I will read over and over. There aren't may books in it but Maggot Moon is now one of them.
So I'm not going to tell you anything more about Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, I'm just going to say you should definitely read it. That's what my friend did for me, and I'd like to pass on the favour.
Ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ahhhh … uptown girl ;)
Images from Maggot Moon and freedigitalphotos.net