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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Terrible Light Of Childhood

The Offering - Grace McCleen

Discovered wandering and amnesiac when she was ten years old, Madeline, now in her mid-thirties, has been locked away in an asylum where she has become deeply institutionalized. However when a new doctor arrives he is determined to get her to recall the events of her childhood.


Aided by the diary she kept at the time, Madeline reluctantly sets out on a journey towards recollection, painfully reliving the claustrophobic experiences of a childhood dominated by the religious zeal of her father, a childhood in which she perceives the world with a hallucinogenic intensity:


"All around me the garden rustles and sways. It watches, it tries to distract me. As I look at it, green becomes greener, the flowers glow like little lights...At night when I take off my clothes there are seeds in my socks, there are stains on my knees, my nails have soil beneath them and my hair smells of sky."


Struggling to make sense of what she sees, Madeline uses the only frame of reference she knows - the stories of the bible. The result is a vivid and passionate confusion in which poverty, isolation, and a passionate response to the natural world are all mixed up with her understanding of the personality of God.


But when sexuality begins to dawn, Madeline comes to believe she is responsible for the financial mire into which the family is steadily sinking. She has sinned and the only way out, she decides, is sacrifice.


Brimming over with the dazzling and terrible light of childhood, this is a courageous and compelling study of innocence and misplaced spirituality.