Wednesday, 31 August 2016

book review: Every Heart a Doorway

Seanan McGuire.
Every Heart a Doorway.
Tor. 2016

There are adventures to be had in fantasy lands. But what happens when you come back from Fairyland, or Narnia, or wherever? How do you readjust to Mundania? Can you readjust? Or will you break, fruitlessly searching for your lost life, your true home?

Eleanor West runs a boarding schools for those children who can’t readjust. Their parents think them damaged, or wayward, or mad. Eleanor knows better, having herself returned from a Netherworld. Most learn to cope, in the company of those who understand. A few, a very few, find their way back. But when new girl Nancy arrives, dark things start happening, and the school itself is threatened. Is Nancy the source, or the trigger, of these events?

Life After Fantasy has always struck me as an issue. The scene at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the Pevensie children return home after decades in Narnia, always horrified me: they had been adult royalty; how did they cope with being ordinary children again? Jo Walton tackles this issue in her wonderful short story, Relentlessly Mundane. Here Seanan McGuire tackles it differently, in a 170pp novella.

Despite wanting to go to Lewis’ Narnia (for the Talking Animals, if not for the sexism, racism, classism, bad theology, and shoddy plotting), and to Phillips’ Fairyland, I didn’t find myself attracted to any of the Netherworlds described by McGuire. (And I don’t think that’s just because there are no Pauline Baynes illustrations, or that I am half a century older than when I read the originals.) However, that lack of attraction is not a problem: it just serves to illustrate how everyone is different, and what is hearts-ease for one may be horror for another. But, consistently, Mundania is home for none.

This is not a typical school story, as it does not dwell on any lessons, except for some interesting Netherworld classification schemes. Nancy as new girl allows for some expository passages, but not that many. The tale focuses mainly on the deadly goings-on that threaten the school. And even there, we do not get a lot, since this is a novella. But McGuire does paint vivid pictures of the various main characters, and the very different homes they wish to return to. I wish this was a novel rather than a novella, and you can’t say fairer than that.

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