Saturday, 6 May 2017

Book Review - Oy Yew by Ana Salote

'Lay low and grow' is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall. The only way to escape their life of drudgery is to reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits, yet Master Jeopardine is determined to feed them little and keep them small. When the Master's methods grow more sinister the waifs must face their doubts. What is kept in the Bone Room? Why is Rook's Parlour locked? A new waif arrives and the fight for survival begins. But this child brings another mystery: who is Oy?

I devoured this in two sittings and was left breathless by the beauty of it. As a young adult I read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and fell in love with the dark world he created. The world of Oy Yew felt very similar to me and I longed to linger there and follow the waifs through the hatches and down to the bottomest basement. Everything that Ana Salote has created feels real and tangible, this is a world that can be imagined and moved through with ease.

The waifs are adorable characters, each with their own personality. Oy is the most mysterious; he seems to be other-worldly compared to the other waifs and I felt that there was still much to learn about him when the book ended - thank heavens for sequels! Alas and Lucinda are the leaders and they organise and protect the waifs as they go about their arduous labours. I loved Gertie and Gritty, sisters who had a lovely relationship and came into their own at the end of the story.

The adults in the story fall into two categories. There are the mean ones like Master Jeopardine and Mrs Rutheday and there are the kind ones like Molly cook. Even in the darkest times there are tender moments between Molly and the waifs when she gives them jam on their bread or finds a little milk for them to share. Because the treatment of the waifs is so cruel and bleak I found these moments especially poignant.

Ana Salote handles the pace of the narrative extremely well. We creep about Duldred Hall with the waifs being quick and silent; we feel the fast passage of time when they are exhausted and get little sleep; and at the end there is an escape scene which rattles along with  such a breathless pace that I was nearly out of breath when I finished reading it.

I am not the target audience for this novel but I was swept away by the story and can hardly wait for the sequel. There is plenty to entrance a child in this book and much to delight an adult. This is a book which I wish I could have written and I salute the talent that created this magical world and these wonderful characters.  I will remember Oy and his friends for a long time.

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