The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild
|The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: A beautifully-written examination of the lives of two teenagers in the aftermath of tragedy that raises the question of alternate worlds: would you swap if you could?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 184||Date: October 2014|
|Publisher: Allen and Unwin|
This book appealed to me on various grounds. It is teen fiction (and, joy of joys, devoid of werewolves and dystopia), it is by an Australian author (under-represented on UK shelves), and it involves parallel universes (tantalising philosophical what-ifs). I was intrigued to see if the author could live up to my expectations.
The book isn't obviously Australian until you reach the occasional understated description of a gum tree (whose branches are bellying with leaves), birds with improbable names (The calls of currawongs, honeyeaters and crimson rosellas make her feel as if she's in a concert hall) and the bushland. Personally, I could have done with a bit more of this, to place the book firmly in its home setting, but perhaps that's being greedy. After all, Margaret Wild didn't set out to write a tourism brochure.
The story revolves around three people, Arrow and Marika and, to a lesser extent, Bob. It isn't at first clear how the three voices will come together but they do, eventually, neatly and cleverly. Typical of Margaret Wild's brevity, the characters are lightly but well drawn. Bob, in particular, has few pages of his own yet we understand his miserable life in an instant. The individual tragedies of the two girls are revealed more slowly. Both girls are overcome by grief and self-blame, for very different reasons, and both girls are likeable for their honesty. There are some lovely cameos too. There is an unlikely, and uplifting, friendship between Arrow and her neighbour Mr Watts where, again, few words say much.
In addition to the beautifully depicted characters, and the development of their stories, the underlying premise of the book is an intriguing one. What happens if you don't like your life, if you decide to swap it for someone else's? And this is where the book gets really interesting for me. Wild introduces the appealing idea of the parallel universe early on: Marika wonders if she should construct a new reality for herself, while Arrow is led to a story called The Garden of Forking Paths in a bookshop. The hints are there, but that's all they are, hints. It's not until the very end of the book that the main characters get their chance to switch, and the moral issues and pitfalls of switching become all too apparent. For every swap made there is a winner and a loser. What are the moral effects of such a decision? Does the fact that there is going to be a loser make you want not to go ahead with the swap? Is it worth the risk, or are the costs just too much to bear? It's a shame the book devoted so little time to this philosophical examination because the idea of living alternate lives is well worth exploring and deserves much more space on the page.
The book was a bit of a slow burner, with so much occurring in the last couple of chapters that they felt somewhat rushed. Nevertheless, the ending did come together well in surprising, and satisfying, ways. It wasn't so much a happy ending as bittersweet, leaving you smiling and regretful at the same time. And wondering. Would you swap if you could?
So did this book live up to expectations? Although Margaret Wild could have spent more of the book examining the alternate worlds scenario it is, nevertheless, a highly enjoyable book and a very good, imaginative, well-written read. And for young adults of all ages."
Recommended further reading:
If I Stay by Gayle Forman: Mia's choice Before was between music and her boyfriend. Her choice After is between life and death.
Looking For Alaska by John Green: Teenage life and the search for forgiveness after tragedy.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild at Amazon.com.
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