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The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This book wasn’t what I was expecting, although it did start off that way…

In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.
I said: ‘I am going to make fields,’ and I made them from table mats, brown corduroy and felt. Then I made rivers from crêpe paper, cling film and shiny tin foil and mountains from papier mâché and bark. And I looked at the fields and I looked at the rivers and I looked at the mountains and I saw they were good.

When I had read that it featured a girl who was building a model of her world in her bedroom, I had visions of it coming to life in the same way as the drawings did in my childhood favourite Marianne Dreams, (which I was inspired to re-read before starting this book.) The only real point of similarity however was the ten year old girls as the main characters…

Judith McPherson lives with her Dad.  In her bedroom, she is building an model of her world, using bits and bobs that people throw away – sweet wrappers, cloth scraps and matchboxes and she peoples it with pipecleaner, wool and clay figures. She believes in it as an allegory of heaven where she and her father will be together with her late Mum again - She calls it the Land of Decoration after a verse in the Bible.

The Bible is very important in her life. Her family are members of a fundamentalist Christian sect who believe that Armageddon is coming. They don’t associate with non-believers – except when they go door-knocking.

Judith isn’t happy at school. The class bully is on her case, and has been making threats. She doesn’t tell anyone.  When she gets home she decides to make it snow in the Land of Decoration so school would be cancelled.  When it snows for real in October the next day she believes she can do miracles, and she tells God all about it.

This is just the start of her problems. Neil steps the bullying up, and it starts to go beyond the classroom. There’s trouble at the factory too where her father works with a strike in the offing.  Things will come to a dramatic climax that will cause Judith and her father to question their personal beliefs and motivation in life.

There was an awful lot in this novel. It sometimes felt like the author was overflowing with ideas that she wanted to weave into the tale. There’s the one about growing up in a fundamentalist religion (echoes of Jeanette Winterson’s debut here); there’s the one about bullying; there’s the one growing up motherless; there’s the one about world-modelling, (and here I owe the author an apology, writing the word ‘world-modelling’ I couldn’t help but think of Slartibartfast and his fjords from H2G2 by Douglas Adams – sorry!).

Judith is a ten-year-old that’s wise beyond her years. She tries very hard to understand her world, discussing it with God. Her faith is strong with the certainty of youth and it colours everything, however, she does find it difficult when God lets bad things happen to people, and finds it hard to see through the hypocrites that end up surrounding her. She’s sweet and charming, and you do so feel for her growing up motherless.  I also wished that she, and her father for that matter, could have a life and friends outside their church.

Although not matching my initial expectations of a fantasy element in the Land of Decoration, this novel didn’t disappoint.  It was a great debut – a family drama with a strong heart, high drama and a creditable heroine. (8/10)

If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, do visit the author’s website here and see how many of its aspects are semi-autobiographical. See some other thoughts on the book at Fleur Fisher and She Reads Novels.

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I received an ARC of this book from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen, pub March 1 by Chatto & Windus, hardback 304 pages.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

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