Greylands by Isobelle Carmody

I bought this book last January at a Writer’s Festival when I was lucky enough to see Isobelle Carmody speak, and she signed some of my books! Including this one actually, where she said “May your world be filled with colour” which seemed pretty nice before I read the book (and remains to be a nice thing to say), but I do get it a little more now. To be honest it was a little unexpected, yeah, the title gives away that there is this ‘grey land’, but as to what the story was about, I had not idea. And as I was reading the introduction for the new re-print edition, I found out that the story was a metaphor for grief. Partially prompted by Isobelle’s own grief over losing her father in a car accident when she was quite young. This makes me wonder whether I would have actually picked out and said this book is a metaphor for grief, if I wasn’t told. I mean, it wasn’t that hard to pick it out, the boy’s mother died, and it is about how his family deals with this loss, but would I have known if I didn’t know?

I found it quite ‘meta’ that there was a beginning, middle, and conclusion, which were written outside of the story. Indeed we find that this is a story being written by the character in the story. Which made it quite interesting. Also in the middle it helped point out the symbolic nature of the story, as Jack and Ellen discuss the book so far.

And the fact that it was a metaphor for grief was equally interesting. It isn’t certainly something groundbreaking to connect greyness with grief. But I think the way Isobelle created a whole new world was fascinating. The interplay between the ‘real’ and the ‘greylands’ was intriguing, and trying to figure out what was going was enjoyable. It was a reasonably short book, so it is a relatively easy read. And I heartily recommend doing so. The imagery is stunning and powerful, and the imagination of the story is commendable.

I should point out that at this point, Isobelle herself is in the process of (or has completed) a screenplay of Greylands, and it is slated to be turned into a movie. Which is super exciting news, because I think it is something that will translate very well to film. And I can’t wait to see it (as long as nothing goes wrong, and it actually does get made). Any news on this I will be sharing in a heartbeat, so make sure you subscribe to be kept up to date!

I didn’t quite think of this connection, until I watched The Life of Pi movie recently, but I guess Life of Pi and Greylands are in some ways similar, due to their very metaphoric and symbolic nature (which could be said of many books). And it has gotten me thinking about this, about the deeper meaning of books, other than them telling a story with a plot. There are so many potential metaphors in texts that ‘the blue curtains represents sadness’ or ‘the storm his internal turmoil’ or whatever. Sometimes this metaphors are obvious, other times not so obvious, and sometimes they are only really there if you go looking for them (or perhaps not there at all).

Reading something once, and reading for enjoyment, which is what I tend to do, means that I don’t sit and contemplate the meaning behind many of the points in the books. And I probably tend to miss things, by not thinking about them. Perhaps that is why I didn’t like Gatsby as much as I did, because I was reading it very superficially, and just seeing the plot, instead of the message. And I guess there is a question of whether that matters. Is there just one way to read a book? Of course not, there are many different ways, and each enables the reader to have a different experience, which is perhaps why we like different books because we get different experiences from them by reading in different ways.

But is there a wrong way of reading? I guess there can be if you read The Hunger Games and start thinking this is a good society to live in, but is my reading of Gatsby as a boring book about rich people doing things I don’t care about, with a hint of the American story, wrong? Some might think so, but that’s how I read it, perhaps a reread would change things, but I don’t care!

So whether you pick out the metaphors and the foreshadowing doesn’t matter, that can just enhance your reading of the book. If you miss these things it doesn’t matter, some of it would have resonated subconsciously. Personally I don’t think you should have to read a book like an English teacher to pick up everything, for it to make sense and be enjoyable. If you have to, then perhaps it’s not that good a book if the reader has to do all of the work.

But Greylands isn’t one of those books. It can be enjoyed on many different levels, so it can be enjoyed on many rereads!

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