It is interesting that the cover of The Land of Decoration contains a glowing recommendation from Emma Donoghue, the author of Room, one of the literary success stories of last year. I'm sure there will be a lot of comparison between the two books - the main similarity being that they are both told from the perspective of a child living through a traumatic situation. For me though that is where the comparison really ends. Even though so many people spoke about their reading of Room as being an amazing experience I wasn't one its hugest fans. Don't get me wrong, I thought the child's voice in the book was incredible - it just wasn't a complete story for me. I found The Land of Decoration to be a much more sophisticated, better written and more completely structured book - with a more engaging over all story.
The Land of Decoration is told from the perspective of 10 year old Judith McPherson, a bright, creative, imaginative and resourceful child living with her father in a working class community in Britain. Judith's mother died when she was born and since then a very tenuous relationship has grown between Judith and her father based strongly around her father's belonging to a fundamental religious group who believe that the end of the world is near and that it is their responsibility to spread this message.
The main way in which Judith deals with her isolating and restricted life is to create her own world - the land of decoration - in her bedroom using scraps and leftover objects found around her house and the school playground. The land of decoration that Judith creates is an imaginative play world, or doll house and she uses the objects to enact stories and play out her hopes and fears. The land of decoration is also a way of escape for Judith - a place where she can remove herself from the distancing relationship with her father and the constant bullying she is subjected to at school. The land of decoration is a powerful took for Judith and it is through this play world that she discovers she might just have some real power to make changes in her life.
The author, Grace McCleen, sets up a strong premise for the story. Judith's situation is established well through her early narrative and is then explored in different contexts and through her interactions with different characters throughout the book. The struggles that Judith experiences in her life are deeply felt by the reader and there is a strong connection and sense of empathy built. The book also deals with broader issues such as poverty, economic inequity, abuse and the difficulties faced by working class communities when their means of earning are removed or reduced. All of this adds a sense of authenticy to the story as a whole and helps to place Judith's story in a wider context.
The ending of the book builds well - almost too well as I found myself unable to put the book down late into the night when I was wanting to learn Judith's fate! Overall an engaging and emotional read.