Reviewed for this blog by Andrea, Windsor Library
Ya know how the good movies always come out toward the end of the year? And movie production companies save them like the treats they are until the summer blockbusters have long since fizzled out?
I got to thinking about what the potential implication of this might be when I started reflecting on the odds of David Almond’s startling new novel, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, published in January. Not so much that publishers might save their critically acclaimed books for later in the year but that perhaps these later-published get recognized more only because they are at the forefront of a committee member’s thoughts due to exposure.
So, I did some (and sometimes deep-sea) researching and a lot of scribbling and fact-checking, what with months in which award-winning books were published and I came up with… absolutely no conclusion. There was no month (or even season) that I could point to and say, “That’s the magic time. There’s our moneymaker.” An obvious point would be that OF COURSE I wouldn’t think the committee members would be so easily fooled into thinking a title is more deserving than another because of when it was released, only that there might be some connection between the awareness of a book and its staying power.
Moving on to Billy Dean.
Billy Dean grows up in a small, English town decimated by war and neglected by the world so that he walks over rubble and destruction with barely a thought. His young mother keeps him a secret (think Emma Donoghue’s Room) where his father, who is shrouded in mystery for the first part of the novel, occasionally visits with declarations of love amid shame. One of his mother’s hairdressing clients discovers that Billy has the ability to heal and uses it to her advantage; whether it’s real or an illusion is Billy’s internal struggle.
Billy’s voice in this book is the most prominent element of this title. His writing skills are abysmal (think Flowers for Algernon); the spelling in particular is like reading a different language whose only guiding rule is phonics. It makes for an intense mental exercise. But it also gives Billy incredible depth as a character, another one of its shining pieces. There are very few characters – I can think of 6 – that play any kind of role in the narrative, but they are all unique, layered, and unusual. Lastly, in combination with these, I’d like to say the setting is indescribable, but when talking about a story, thiswould be a bad thing. These people are living in a post-war community that the rest of the world has forgotten. Clouded in dust and debris, constantly overcast, and above all, quiet. Quiet like the surrounding, claustrophobic mess is absorbing any sound that might squeak out.
Billy Dean is dark, melancholy, haunting. And I’m putting a lot of weight behind it. Like, heavy, medal weight.