A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
|A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A desperately romantic and deeply lyrical re-imagining of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Full of the hums and thrums of emotions, landscape, music and poetry, it's David Almond at his best.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 264||Date: October 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
Maybe we were mad that day. Maybe some of the things that seemed to happen didn't really happen at all. Maybe many of the things that seemed to happen in the days and weeks that followed didn't really happen. Maybe it was all because we were young, and being young is like being mad. Maybe just being human, at any age, is a bit like being mad.
Claire and her friend Ella Grey are inseparable. Ella is dreamy and strange and Claire thinks she is the most beautiful girl alive. The two are part of arty friendship group who are studying literature and getting ready for university. They wear vintage clothes and drink wine together, dreaming of freedom and future lives full of art and song and creativity. And then, one day, Orpheus appears. His music entrances them all but none more than Ella. And Claire, with a cold lump of dread inside, can see her beloved friend slipping away.
Oh, man. I love David Almond's storytelling. A Song for Ella Grey is his retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus follows his wife into the Underworld in a desperate attempt to bring her back from the dead. And it's truly beautiful. I almost fell on this book when it arrived - it's one of my favourite stories from the Greek myths and the retelling by Jean Cocteau is one of my favourite films: as close to a poem as I think a film has ever got.
Almond's retelling inhabits a real world filled with strong emotions and is rooted in a love of landscape and the beauty of the familiar. But it's also away with the fairies in a dreamworld, where the intensity of emotions blurs the distinction between the real and the imagined. There is such a heightened awareness of, well, everything. Orpheus's music sends an already artsy group of friends into a kind of trance. Claire's love for Ella is a confused tangle of admiration, affection, jealousy and fear. Snakes hiding in the sand dunes on the beach are both beautiful and fearsome.
In a world like this, we can't be sure if Orpheus really does journey to the Underworld or if Claire's love for Ella is platonic or sexual. It's a world of shifting sands, where what happens isn't as important as how we feel about what's happened. And where how we feel can be expressed by poetry or music, or can be reflected back at us by the landscape around us and the life within it. And so A Song for Ella Grey is a Blakeian story for people who love stories and who can give themselves up to some intense romanticism, who will feel the story as much as read it, and who will continue to feel it long after they've finished reading.
I loved this lyrical, beautiful, sad and wild retelling of an ancient myth.
If you like the idea of re-imagining the oldest of stories, you could look at Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess, which retells the Viking Volsunga Saga within a dystopian framework. Dido by Adele Geras is a more straightforward retelling of part of Virgil's Aeneid, and it's gorgeous.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond is in the Top Ten Teen Books of 2014.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.