Friday, February 5, 2010
Review of The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds
Heloise lives with her beautiful but stern and cold godmother and a dour housekeeper. She knows has no memories of any other life but this - reading a censored version of the bible, doing chores, lessons, and needlework, and taking a short daily walk. Heloise has no friends, talks to no one besides her godmother and housekeeper, and knows almost nothing about the world. Beauty, love, and laughter are forbidden.
Next door to the cottage where she lives is a grand house - The Museum of Mary Child. Heloise's godmother takes paying visitors on tours of this museum, which is how she earns her living. Heloise has no idea what is inside this museum.
Naturally enough, Heloise longs for beauty and love, so when she finds a doll under the floorboards of her room, her world is altered. Whenthe doll is discovered, Heloise runs away to the city rather than give her up - and among the many people she meets , one imprisoned young man has a story that is mysteriously entwined with her own.
This is one of those books that is impossible to categorize. Although it at first seems meant for children, as Heloise is clearly a child, some of the almost spiritual or metaphysical themes of the story would fly way over a child's head - and as Heloise grows older, so do these themes rise to the forefront of the story. The Society of Caged Birds is a charming and fascinating idea that will appeal to children - but the Christ-like prisoner and the themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption require some maturity to appreciate. The tone of the narration is calm and measured for the most part, with a restrained yet hugely appealing sedateness that is on rare occasions (mostly when Heloise is speaking with the prisoner) broken by overwrought and perplexing dialogue.
Readers will certainly guess some of the fascinating twists and turns of the story before they occur, but that does not lessen their magic. The underlying themes - the magic of love and the necessity of letting go of control in order to get and give love - are presented in a truly magical and compelling way. I know I will be haunted for a long time by Mary Child, by those amazing caged birds, by the singing orphans and their choir leader Old Mother, and especially by Heloise.
I don't know to whom I should recommend this atmospheric, understated fantasy. Kids? Teens? Adults? I was swept away. Hopefully you will be as well.