Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Spirit House by Mark Dapin

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Title: Spirit House
Author: Mark Dapin
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Paperback: 368 pages
Expected Publication Date: 1 Aug 2013
Summary: (taken from The Book Depository)
David is thirteen and confused. His mum has gone off with her lover and sent David to his grandparents to give her new relationship some 'space'. David's grandfather, Jimmy - a Jewish war veteran and survivor of the enforced labour on the Thai-Burma railway - is seventy. Haunted by the ghosts of long-dead comrades, the only person he can confide in is a thirteen-year-old from a different world. Funny, wise and deeply moving, Spirit House is a remarkable story of war and the fall of Singapore, of the bonds of friendship and the bonds of grief, and of a young boy making sense of growing up while old men try to live with their past.

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

While beautifully written and an inherently interesting, moving subject, I think that Spirit House could have been organized more effectively. First, David is supposedly the main character of the novel, but we don't get to spend much time with him. Instead, we have a brief page or two that sums up his thoughts about his current situation of living at his grandparents' home while his parents are figuring themselves off, and then we're back to Jimmy's story about the war. So, don't let the summary confuse you. Despite the fact that David is the "main character" and that this novel is supposed to be about his journey into adulthood, this is really a book about Jimmy.

Now, don't get me wrong, Jimmy's story is great. It's interesting, the dialogue is witty, and the characters are memorable. (The biggest strength of this book is characterization.) Spirit House gives a lot of food for thought. It's full of great ideas that we should think about and discuss. However, the format just didn't cut it for me. I think Jimmy should have been the main character. David's story doesn't add much of interest and not a lot of time is even spent on him. Jimmy, on the other hand, spends most of the novel narrating his story about being a POW in Singapore.

I also prefer novels to be more exposition than dialogue, and that just wasn't the case in this story. It may seem like a small detail, but format is everything to me. Scripts and comics are made for dialogue-heavy storytelling, not novels.

Despite that, the characters are excellent; getting to read about them and learn about them was a pleasure. I especially enjoyed reading about Townsville Jack; he is by far my favorite character of this novel. The story itself is interesting, though it's hard not to get frustrated about the format through which it's introduced. Overall, I think those who simply like a good story will enjoy this novel. For those who are like me and get caught up in format and writing style, you may have some problems with keeping yourself in the story.

*Thank you to The Book Depository for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*