Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wonders of a Godless World

Author: Andrew McGahan

Publication Date: 2009

Category: Fiction

Point of no return: This book was a recommendation, but the first two sentences really drew me in: "The orphan knew something was up that night, even before the foreigner arrived at the hospital. It was a warm evening, early in the storm season, and she had been feeling strangely restless all day."

Classic line: Page 2-3: "He thought she was one of the inmates - a short, stumpy girl with a shaved head and a hairy upper lip and a hospital dress stretched tight over big floppy breasts.
    Ha! She was ugly and a madwoman and he was scared of her."

What's it all about? An orphan lives and works in an aging hospital, prefering to spend her time in the back wards, with the dying and the insane. She knows that she herself has madness in her, but it has remained undiagnosed due to her mental disabilities. She has to concentrate to understand even simple speech, cannot decipher pictures, television, or sounds on the radio, and cannot hold onto or understand names. But she can read the weather, and tell you if it will rain or not.

One night the foreigner arrives, in a catatonic state, and disrupts the balance of the hospital. He ends up in the old crematorium with the Duke, the Witch, the Archangel, and the Virgin, with none of the nursing staff wanting to go near him.

After the nearby volcano erupts, the orphan hears the foreigner's voice inside her head, clear and wonderful. He recognises her special abilities, and helps her to explore and expand them.  He claims to be immortal, and takes her on journeys into his mind and his past, and the minds and memories of the Duke, the Witch, the Archangel, and the Virgin.

I don't feel I can do justice to the story, and hope that you feel intrigued enough from this very paltry description to read it yourself. I felt like I travelled with the orphan on her amazing journeys, experienced her wonder and joy. I also felt the foreigner was taking advantage of her naivity, and moulding her for his own selfish reasons. Her reactions to his manipulations were surprising to me at first, but Andrew McGahan really made you understand how isolated she felt before the foreigner arrived.

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

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