Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Only Ever Always by Penni Russon


Only Ever Always 
by Penni Russon

Pages: 180
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: August 2011
IBSN: 9781741750447

Claire lives in an ordinary world where she is broken with grief. The silvery notes of her music box allow her to escape into the dream-world of Clara. In Clara’s world, powerful people are pulling the strings. She finds broken things to swap at the markets and walks treacherous routes. Claire’s and Clara’s paths are set to collide but which world is real?

Claire and Clara are one and the same, but of two very different worlds. Dire circumstances and eerie parallel music boxes will lead them to the other, but there's no balance to be found with them where they don't belong. Eventually, the question becomes, which is the dream and which is the dreamer? How much is real?

A lesser question: how little justice will I do this magical book?

Only Ever Always has the atmosphere of a fairy tale -- not the Disney kind, but of the original you find out years later to be vastly different. It was eerie and vivid and oddly hypnotic, the setting reminiscent of that of This Is Shyness. Clara's world is just a decayed parallel of Claire's, but it has this intoxicating otherworldly vibe to it that feels separate.

The prose was effortlessly descriptive and gave a vivid picture of the unique world Russon built. She has a definite talent for writing, invoking so much emotion and weaving spare phrases that resonated. Her partial second person narration was pulled off brilliantly and helped us to feel deeply involved.

It would have been difficult to not become invested in the characters of Only Ever Always. Clara and Claire had this connection before they even met, united by their oddly poignant music box and like wistful voices. The relationships they held with others defined them as well. The story opens with Clara and Andrew talking of adventures, before we knew anything about them, and as their dynamic shifted, I was always thinking back to that initial place.

Penni Russon did so much in so little pages. Reading the author's note afterwards in which she tells about what led her to write Only Ever Always gave us insight into how much the initial idea developed since conceptionBy the end I was just holding the tiny book amazed at how much I was affected by it. Russon is a master storyteller.

Reading Only Ever Always felt like an effort, in a best way. It isn't a smooth, soft read, but rather dark and difficult, and beautifully touching.

I give Only Ever Always a 6 out of 5.