Let me just get this out of the way from the start; I’m really not sure
how I feel about this book. The evocative, eerie, captivating writing which is somehow, at the same time, simple in its wording, is not dissimilar to the style of Margo Lanagan.
The way this book made me feel queasy and annoyed, while still making it impossible to put the book down, was not dissimilar to Margo’s books.
And I usually find myself feeling a very similar mix of emotions after reading one of Margo’s stories.
Shoujo commented when I finished the book and asked if I loved it. I didn’t know what to tell her, but if Margo’s books are any kind of judge, when the smoke clears, I will. Absolutely. Without a doubt. This is a tale about obsession, and about the power that older siblings have over younger siblings, told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. I loved that about it. I loved the voice of the story, and how the novel itself seemed to dote on Ruby, while I brought my external prejudices to the table, and read a different story to the one that Chloe thought she was telling.
And I do think this is a story best read with as little info as possible. While I have done my best to properly tag, or just avoid spoilers, please consider that before reading on. Things definitely annoyed me about this book, but not in a “the author did this poorly” way.
Ruby was a spoilt brat and not a likeable person.
But, well, I guess if everyone falls under your spell, and the only people who see through it are people who would hang of your every word anyway, you can’t HELP but be vile.
Chloe isn’t just Ruby’s little sister, she’s her willing slave:
He looked down and wiped more sawdust on his pants. Then he looked up into my eyes.
”Do you make her breakfast in the morning?” I asked.
“And iced coffee the way she likes it?”
“Yeah, sure. Sometimes.”
“Do you answer the phone when it rings so she doesn’t have to? Do you make her popcorn on Wednesdays? Do you do her laundry and hang out her dresses to dry?”
There were times that I really hated Ruby. Times where I raged at the book, because she had such STRANGE double standards, and I wondered WHY Chloe couldn’t see through her.
“At least there’s that,” Ruby said. “As for you, Chlo, we’ll talk later, after London drives you home. Your curfew is midnight. I’ve never believed in curfews for myself-like I would’ve listened if our mother gave me one.” She laughed, sharply, and I held the phone away from my ear as she did. “But,” she went on, and I pulled the phone back, “I’ve decided I now believe in curfews for you. Midnight.” And at that she cut the line.
”Look at the time, Chlo.”
I glanced at my cell phone to see that the display read 12:02.
“It’s midnight,” I told her.
“No,” she said, “it’s after midnight. It’s twelve-oh-two.”
Sometimes Chloe DOES come close to seeing it
She changed the subject. “Chloe, you should have told me boys were going to be there. You never said anything about any boys being there.”
“But I didn’t know.” I was utterly confused at how she was acting-like she was tallying up all the things I’d done wrong, and I’d only gone out without her this one night, and it had been her idea to send me. Was she being a parent now? What would she do next, ground me?
But Chloe still lets Ruby call all the shots, make all the rules
”The talk, the one we didn’t have last night. There are things you can and can’t do, and we need to talk about them.” She counted on her fingers, repeating all the things she’d already told me. The phone, I shouldn’t answer it. I shouldn’t leave town, I shouldn’t eat raisins in front of her (this was new, but I should know that raisins sickened her, and who’s to say they don’t grow back into grapes once they’re swallowed?), I shouldn’t go out to the reservoir, she didn’t want me smoking even if she sometimes did, no drugs and no drinking, obviously, and she didn’t think to highly of Owen and if I wanted to like a boy I should make an effort to find another.
She tells Chloe how to feel
I shook my head; she was being silly now. I did not like Ruby at all, and Chloe, being a mostly compliant shadow at Ruby’s beck and call did not make me like her immensely, either.
“I want you to cut this out today,” she said. “That nobody with the bad hair… You don’t like him anymore.”
“You don’t. I won’t let you.”
She was acting like she could forbid me from having an emotion. She could shove a hand down my throat and wiggle her fingers as far as they’d go, plucking out stuff she didn’t want in there, like she did when we got up the courage to clean out last season’s mouldy takeout containers from the fridge. She’d do it fast, and didn’t even hold her nose.
“Good,” she said.
I felt sorry for her.
Even at the end of the book I felt sorry for her. She doesn’t see how pitiful her situation is.
I understand that she feels lost, and responsible for the fact that Ruby is gone, and I understand that she is a little sister who will always look up to her big sister. I understand that grief does strange things to people. But at the end of the book, I was left unsure of whether Chloe would EVER move on. Will she waste away in that town, all by herself, without friends, or boyfriends or girlfriends?The novel:
I didn’t know what to think about this book as I went in. I knew next to nothing about it as I read, and there are still some things I am in the dark about at the end.
It started out as a story about two sisters from the wrong side of the tracks. The older, bossy one, who always gets her way, and the younger one who follows in her sister’s footsteps.
Ruby, the older, gets everything she wants, and ignores the rules of society. Their mother is an absent drunk, and something happens that results in Chloe, the younger, being sent to live with her dad.
At this stage of the book, it all seems very normal, real world, with the fantastical elements of the older sister’s stories creating a bit of a gothic, creepy feel about the reservoir in their home town.
Two years later, the younger comes back, and that’s when the shit starts to get WEIRD.
When the weird started happening, an assortment of options for where this was going popped to mind, each as likely as the rest. One hundred pages from the end of the book, I still really didn’t know what to make of it, or where it was going.
I devoured this book. It kept me reading, well past my bedtime, and I NEEDED to know what the end result was going to be.
Part way through, I had a dream that the end was disappointing and, while I don’t think it was quite as disappointing as that, I was a little upset with how it ended.
I don’t think I can come up with what might have been a more satisfying end. I don’t think it was the WRONG ending, it was just… Not the ending I was hoping for.
I understand, as this story was told from Chloe’s POV, we can’t know things that she didn’t find out, but I would really have liked to know what this special ability of Ruby’s was, and where it came from? WERE the sisters somehow tied to the reservoir? Was Ruby’s father magical somehow? I wanted to know the HOW.
It was an enjoyable read, which left me with mixed emotions. And I usually don’t feel mixed emotions for BAD books, just those with so much packed into them, and which are so realistic, that I just don’t know what to do when they’re over.