Books, Books Are My Bag, LGBT

A Song For Ella Grey – David Almond


This was another of the books that I got in my book bundle after the Bookshop Crawl last July, and it won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award in November. It’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, and it’s set in Tyneside. Despite having dated a classicist, and done a GCSE in Latin (it was distance learning, I got an E, we played Pictionary in class, it wasn’t my finest hour, but I do know that ‘Caecilius in horto est’), my knowledge of classical myths is… patchy.

I knew absolutely nothing about Orpheus. I’ve just read the Wikipedia page about him, and none of it rings any bells, but I now know that Orpheus wasn’t a God (I thought he was), but a musician and prophet who could charm all living things with his music, and he pops up a lot in Greek mythology. This particular myth is about his wife, Eurydice, who dies after being bitten by snakes, and is taken off to the underworld. Orpheus goes after her, determined to bring her back to the world of the living. In this version, Eurydice is called Ella, the mouth of the underworld is the gated mouth of a sewer-y river, and the characters in question are a group of arty teenagers who go camping on the beach in their school holidays.

I probably would have enjoyed this more if I had known the story of Orpheus and Eurydice already. As it was, I found it long-winded, the characters irritating, and the ending underwhelming. I was very glad that the narrator speaks of loving Ella romantically, and there being no shame in that. I was, frankly, baffled, by “bloody” being written as “bliddy”, and it grated. It was trippy and confusing, and I didn’t think it gave enough flesh to the myth to make it really understandable. What I did enjoy, though, was the formatting when Orpheus visits the underworld. Printed in white on black pages, with differing typefaces, it brought that part to life far more than the rest of the book, and I found that part gripping.

I read a few reviews once I’d finished it, and they seem overwhelmingly positive (apart from Lynne Reid Banks’ one), but this book simply wasn’t for me.



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