Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
Published: 2009
Pages: 337
Series: N/A
Read: 12th-13th September 2011
Challenge: N/A
Status: Borrowed but buying
Reason I Read It: I have The Glass Demon by Helen Grant on my TBR shelf, and because of the first line of this book.

Synopsis: On the day Katharina Linden disappears, Pia is the last person to see her alive.  Terror is spreading through the town.  How could a ten-year-old girl vanish in a place where everybody knows everybody else?

Pia is determined to find out what happened to Katharina.  But then the next girl disappears...(back copy)

First Line: "My life might have been so different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded."

Review: How could I resist an opening line like that?  Although there aren't any exploding grandmothers in the book - it's more a freak accident involving hairspray and an open flame - the novel more than lives up to that first sentence.  The fact that Pia is in her late teens narrating events from her childhood allows the language and the commentary to be grown up without being ridiculous precocious.  The prose alone is a reason to read, and the plot and characterization make this an exceptionally good book.

While I enjoyed the book as a whole, possibly my favourite thing is the German folklore that pervades the story.  The tales Pia is told eventually colour not only her notions of what is happening to the vanishing girls but also her perceptions of the book's climax.  There's nothing supernatural about the girl's disappearances - there's all too human an explanation - but the ending contrives to makes events take on a folkloric quality.  Often the book feels like an extended folk tale, with the perils lurking not with the Fiery Man of the Hirnberg or in a haunted mill but in the house of someone seen every day.

Overall, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is the perfect mix of prose, plot and folklore all seen through a child's perspective of the adult world.  There are some moments of genuine horror and an ending that isn't perfectly happy, which makes the book as a whole like a true folk tale: even if the hero wins, there isn't a guaranteed happily ever after. 

Rating: 10/10

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