Here’s the thing, I read a lot of books! I read a lot of genre fiction in particular, the sort that has set tropes and predictable story beats. The joy in reading a book whose overall plot I can guess based on the cover is the ways the author takes those expectations and subverts or enhances them. I love “through the door” stories!! I love how we get to explore our own worlds and beliefs when confronted with a topsy-turvy dimension.
Which is why I was really looking forward to this novel from Michel Faber. He wrote Under the Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White, two books I remember liking, if not loving. But I can’t even be that positive about this one. It just did nothing at all for me.
Dhikilo is a 13-year-old refugee from Somaliland who’s been adopted and living in a small English town. One day, people just stop using the letter D. It disappears from street signs and newspaper headlines, and no one seems to notice. Interesting premise, right? Now she has to go on an adventure with a sphinx through the doorway in her old teachers attic to Liminus, figure out what is going on and fix language.
But the adventure is shockingly basic. And all of the things I look for in this sort of tale, sharp parallels and contrasts to our own world, insight into society, some sort of a message or point of view, they didn’t exist. The book starts with emphasizing Dhikilo’s feelings of otherness but that went no where. There were flashes of clever, but mostly it all felt very…paint by numbers.
It isn’t a bad book, honestly. It’s competently written, there were some fun language bits. But would I press this into anyone’s hands and beg them to stop their world to read it? I can’t even think of a casual recommendation – maybe for a young person who’s ready for a fantasy tale that is technically written by and for adults, but has nothing remotely naughty or complex? No big ideas or terror or urgency? I don’t know, this was a turkey sandwich of a book – not leftover thanksgiving turkey, just some cold cuts on white bread. Good enough to finish, not good enough to remember.