I had to check twice while I was reading this book that it really was on the YA Book Prize list and wasn’t just something that had wandered into my YA Book Prize pile by mistake. It doesn’t feel like a YA book to me. Not that it’s too young, or too adult, nothing like that. It’s just that the characters of YA books are generally young adults, and the themes tend to be things that concern young adults. The Ghosts of Heaven is not a typical YA read.
There are four separate sections to the book. The author tells us we can read them in any order, and though they do stand alone, to me, there is a build up which works best in the order they’re laid out. Plus that way they’re chronological. The first quarter, ‘Whispers in the Dark’, is set in prehistoric times, the story of a girl and her tribe, a tragic story written in short lines, set out like poetry, but more I think to express the disjointed nature of people’s thoughts before language. The second quarter, ‘The Witch in the Water’, is about a young girl in what I suppose are medieval times falling helplessly into an accusation of witchcraft. The protagonists of these first two sections do fit the usual YA profile: both on the child/adult cusp. This changes in the third and fourth quarters though. Quarter three, ‘The Easiest Room in Hell’, concerns a doctor who had come to work in a Victorian lunatic asylum. He does have a daughter, but it is he, the middle-aged man, who is the focus. I could tell you something about what happens in this section, but, to be honest, by this stage I was thinking, ‘OK, so what horrible thing is going to happen to these people now?’ The final section, ‘The Song of Destiny’, was probably my favourite. Set in a spaceship, sometime in the future, our protagonist is another adult man, of indeterminate age due to the suspended animation he undergoes most of the time. Echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
So the question is, what is all this? And how are these stories related? Maybe you’ll have an answer. I can tell you that it has something to do with spirals and that I felt all the way through that something was being said that I was completely failing to get. Much as I feel when I read poetry, really. Oh, and it was lovely to read, like poetry. Puzzling, peculiar and rather lovely.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015