The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner, published by Indigo on 3rd November 2011
Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever, a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father's plan. Against the tense backdrop of the second World War Sally Gardner explores families and what binds them, fathers and daughters, past histories, passions and cruelty, love and devastation in a novel rich in character and beautifully crafted.
I'd previously read and enjoyed Sally Gardner's two historical novels, 'The Red Necklace' and 'The Silver Blade', so had been looking forward to her new offering immensely. This book is very different to anything else she's written but in a good way. Trust me, in a really good way! I enjoyed it so much that even after having finished reading it over a week ago, I still can't stop thinking about it. The plot is so detailed and complex that you'll want to pick it up and re-read it again as soon as you've finished.
What's so amazing about 'The Double Shadow' is the absolute uniqueness and originality of the story, which has sprung from an imagination that I'm seriously envious of. It's totally different from anything else I've read that it really stands out from any other offering currently gracing the shelves in bookshops. The plot and the characters are both multi-layered and as I was reading it, I continually felt that there was always something else waiting to be uncovered.
The first half of the book introduces the reader to Amaryllis Rubens around which most of the pivotal events of the story revolve. Having been expelled from school following an incident with an older man, 16 year old Amaryllis returns home to live with her father. Mixed-up and confused, she wants nothing more than her father's love and attention but he's more interested in spending time working on his invention - a memory machine housed within a picture palace in the grounds of Warlock Hall. With the threat of war coming, he wants to use the machine to not only wipe away Amaryllis's bad memories but to also keep her safe and ensure that everything remains the same for her, even with war on the horizon. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the memory machine being activated and the effect this has on not only the people trapped within the machine, but also on those who are left behind.
I found 'The Double Shadow' to be endlessly fascinating. The whole concept of the memory machine was incredible and the idea that someone could build something which could potentially create a three or four dimensional world in which only perfect memories could exist was amazing. Although Amaryllis's father's intentions are good, a major issue in the book is the broken relationship between a father and daughter and how each can be so oblivious to the needs of the other that the very foundation of their bond is lost. Each of them is so consumed with their own world that they isolate themselves and prevent the fragile link between the two of them from being repaired. Another major relationship in the book is between Amaryllis and local boy Ezra and the gradual blossoming of the love between them was wonderful to behold.
The book does deal with some heavy themes which makes it more suited to a slightly older teen audience, but it holds so much appeal that I will be recommending it to everyone! It has an extremely clever narrative and Sally Gardner's writing is both sharp and insightful which made this book a joy to read. The language used is also beautifully poetic at times and I literally savoured every word on the page of this wonderful story. I'm in awe of Gardner's storytelling skills and envious of anyone getting to read this book for the very first time. It's an experience you won't forget!