I had the joy of reading this for New Books Magazine which was not a hard ship, last year I had to do a review of The Falling Man by Don DeLillo last year reviewing is something I could definitely get into more, how does one go about it with all the big publishers? I may have to do some research into that, if anyone knows please let me know. Sorry I digress… onto The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day.
Do you remember the old I Spy books you used to get? Well these feature, one in particular, in the novel greatly as in some ways they help to tell the tale and are in fact the title chapters. The Palace of Strange Girls is the story of the summer holiday in Blackpool 1959 for The Singleton family. There is seven year old Beth who is just out of hospital, she is wonderfully written by Day, and who first appears in the book saying ‘bugger, bugger’ which for some reason really made me laugh. Helen is her older sister who has a very healthy (though unhealthy to her parents) interest in independence and boys. Their parents, mother Ruth who is both uptight and strict as well as a bit of a killjoy, and their father Jack who has a big secret all the way in Crete and is depressed.
What should be a nice sea break away from the Mills and Mines back home turns into a family breaking down and rebelling against one another in any way they can. Amongst the cream teas, circus acts, promenades and sandcastles lie’s some deeper darker undertones and actions that show a family falling apart. Sallie Day has been compared to Kate Atkinson with this novel and I think as a storyteller the comparisons are not far off, both have great prose and pace and both are great tellers of how humans are and what makes them who they are. I didn’t like ‘Behind The Scenes at the Museum’ which people seem to be comparing this too, this is a great book, I can see the resemblances however I don’t think its fair to compare Day in that way as this is HER novel and not a copy of anyone else’s. The one negative, the title, though it is in the book its not as exciting or as mysterious as the title suggests. This is a great debut regardless of that.