Those who regularly read my reviews won’t be surprised to hear me say I enjoy a book that takes me by surprise and leaves me thinking about what I’ve read long after I’ve finished it. The Children’s Home may well be the most surprising, thought provoking and also baffling book I’ve ever read. In many ways this book reminded me of poetry in that both the story and the way in which it is told leave almost everything open to interpretation by the reader. I can’t help feeling that this book will tell a slightly different story to each individual reader. And judging by the reviews I’ve seen, not everybody enjoys that. Fortunately, I do.
To me this book read as a study in contrasts. The tone of the story is observational, descriptive and distant, as if none of the events described are of any great importance. At the same time those same events are shocking and often gruesome. I have no doubt most of this story would have horrified me if it had been told in a more direct way. As it was the horror of what I’d read only sank in slowly, often after I had already moved on in the story. Since I’m not a huge fan of horror stories, the distance worked very well for me.
Did I fully understand this story, its implications or its message? No, I am sure I did not. For me this read as a dark fairytale set in a world not unlike ours but definitely not as we know it. I picked up on a clear and harsh outcry against the way children all too often get used and/or neglected. I liked the Narnia-like mystery of where the children came from and would be going, and it was impossible to miss the World War II references. On the other hand, there were at least as many instances of things I didn’t understand or couldn’t place, and I have no doubt a lot of metaphors went straight over my head. The resulting sense of mystery didn’t frustrate me however, quite the opposite in fact. It left me with a sense of wonder, with questions and possible answers to ponder. And, as I said at the start of this review, I do like a book that makes me think and keeps on intriguing me even after I’ve finished reading the last sentence.
This is the third book I’ve read by Charles Lambert and I have to say I’m mightily impressed with his versatility. I can’t wait to see what he may come up with next.
If you like your stories straightforward and easily explained, this probably isn’t the book for you. However if you, like me, enjoy a book that is unlike most other novels, a story that keeps you thinking long after you’ve finished it, I highly recommend The Children’s Home.