Friday, 8 April 2011
Orange 2011: Swamplandia! (Karen Russell)
I was immediately attracted to this candidate on the Orange longlist by the exclamation mark at the end of the title. I definitely overuse exclamation marks, but I love to see them in slightly unexpected situations. Book titles are one, the other is obviously town names - isn't Westward Ho! just brilliant?! I'm particularly pleased with how many of the Orange titles that I have read this year have been so very un-mainstream - this riveting coming of age almost fairy tale with crocodiles among the cast is certainly that (I did have to get over my childhood fear of crocodiles but it was worth it).
We meet the Bigtree family who live on, and own, the remote theme park, Swamplandia in South Florida. One of the main attractions is the park's alligators, and their mother is a famed alligator wrestler. Ava, the youngest daughter aspires to be like her mother. But when we meet them, things are starting to unravel. Hilola, the mother, has just died of cancer, losing one of the park's big draws, and leaving the family somewhat devastated. Visitor numbers are dropping. And their father, The chief, decides to leave in order to drum up business and acquire a new alligator. The three children are left behind. Kiwi, the son, also leaves the island, and believes that he can earn enough money to save the park by working at a rival attraction, The world of darkness, a park themed on hell. Ossie, the elder girl, falls in love with a ghost, and elopes, leaving Ava to try and retrieve her from the underworld.
It was colourful and fascinating, and just "different" and I will be especially interested to see whether or not it makes it to the shortlist - I would think that it deserves to for being so very different.
Many thanks to Fiona who sent me this title on behalf of Chatto and Windus.