Saturday 18 June 2011

My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, Annabel Pitcher (audiobook)

sister mantlepieceFive years ago, Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in London. He doesn’t really remember Rose, because he was only five at the time, but his family has never recovered. His mum left just a few weeks ago after having an affair with Nigel from the support group. Jamie’s dad drinks all the time and hates all Muslims. Rose’s twin sister Jas – now fifteen – has dyed her hair pink and got her nose pierced, an act seen as a betrayal by their parents, because she doesn’t look like Rose any more. It’s like Jas and Jamie are less visible than the urn on the mantlepiece, less present than the hole where Rose ought to be, the gap around which their whole family revolves.

After Mum’s desertion, Dad, Jas and Jamie move to a small village in the Lake District to start a new life. At his new school, Jamie doesn’t fit in. His teacher always seems to ask the very questions he can’t answer, and is frustrated by his reticence and apparent stupidity. The other kids call him “freak,” with the exception of sparky, mischievous Sunya, who recognises in him a kindred spirit, a fellow super-hero. But Jamie dreads to think how his father would react to his friendship with a Muslim girl, when he blames all Muslims for Rose’s death.

Jamie is a bright, unusual child with a vivid imagination. His narration is full of bright similes and metaphors which fit perfectly:
“I was more nervous than the most nervous person I could think of, which right now is the lion from The Wizard of Oz. My tummy had something bigger and scarier than butterflies inside it. Maybe they were eagles or hawks or something. Or, come to think of it, they could have been those monkeys with wings that kidnap Dorothy and take her to the witch that's scared of water.”
Jamie doesn’t really remember his sister Rose. Every day he sees the effect of her death on his parents, but for him that’s normal. He doesn’t remember when life was any different. For the outside reader, it is clear that something is very, very wrong. I felt intense pity for Jamie’s parents – one could never get over the loss of a child – but they are unreasonable in the way they treat their surviving children, so wrapped up in their own pain that they resent Jas and Jamie for not being Rose, or for not letting their lives revolve around her absence. When Jamie had to write a school essay about a hero, and chose footballer Wayne Rooney, his mother made him rewrite it about Rose, dictating the memories he didn’t have. Then, at a birthday party, when Jamie asked for food, his dad filled a plate – to put on the mantlepiece beside Rose’s urn. Jamie is such an optimistic child, but his hope is painful to an older, wiser reader (or listener listener) because of the awareness of the crushing disappointment that is to come when his wishes don’t come true, or if they do, they aren’t what he had hoped. At times the story just seems to be disappointment after disappointment, and Jamie has to learn the difficult lesson that adults don’t always get it right, don’t have all the answers and do let you down. But they get there, slowly, until Jamie concludes:

If OFSTED inspected my family, then I know what grade we'd get: Satisfactory. OK, but not brilliant, but that's fine by me.
I downloaded the audio version of this book when I was struck by a bad migraine attack. I couldn’t sleep for the whole time but wasn’t up to reading, so I let David Tennant read this to me instead. Although he is a talented voice actor, seemingly able to imitate any accent he tries, in this case his reading is simple and understated, letting the story do the work, narrating with the right amount of innocent hope, eagerness and subdued sadness. I bought the audiobook from, but was quite disappointed that it came as one six-hour track, so I couldn’t burn it to CD to wake me up in the morning. In future I think I’ll stick to buying  audio books as CDs.

1 comment:

  1. If you've got a music editing software (don't know what the PC equivalent of GarageBand is) you could always chop the track up. I chopped up my white noise track which was an hour long and didn't fit on my phone...


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