Friday, 15 February 2013

Review: The Land of Decoration

The Land of Decoration
Grace McCleen

'In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.'

The Land of Decoration is Grace McCleen's debut novel (and what a debut, might I add) that tells the story of 10-year-old Judith and her father, members of a Christian fundamentalist sect. Judith and her father are patiently awaiting Armageddon in order to get to the paradise saved for believers. Judith, who is bullied at school, makes this paradise, the Land of Decoration, in her bedroom out of rubbish and other materials she finds. One day, in order to avoid a dunking in the school toilet, Judith makes it snow in the Land of Decoration. The next day she wakes to find it has snowed in the real world too and there begins the struggle of the novel as Judith starts to believe she can make miracles happen.

I must say, it is easy to think Armageddon is already on its way in this novel. It is set in the mid-80's and there are strikes, hunger, deprivation and hostility. Generally, it's a pretty nasty world. The writing itself is wonderfully descriptive, particularly as the world is seen through the eyes of a rather imaginative 10-year-old. I've never been a massive fan of child narrators, I think it is a tricky one to get right. Room by Emma Donoghue is one which uses a child narrator perfectly and I think Grace McCleen gets it just right. Judith is wise well beyond her years but also terribly naive (certain aspects of the male anatomy are a complete mystery to her even though they are not to the rest of her class). She is definitely what I'd call fervent, but the way she sees the world around her is refreshing.

'I looked at the sky. It was so white it might not be there at all. It was like paper, like feathers. Like snow.'

McCleen grew up into a religious sect which accounts for the detail and all round authenticity of the novel. One thing I love about the narration in particular is the use of capitals. Judith and her father Ponder the Bible, bitter greens are Necessary Things and they are living in the Last Days. I don't know why I find this particularly amusing or appealing apart from the fact that I think in capitals sometimes too. I would really recommend this novel; it is dark, unsettling, oddly uplifting, and has a wonderful narrator.

'I think people don't believe in things because they are afraid. Believing something means you could be wrong and if you're wrong you can get hurt.'


  1. This was on my radar last year when it first came out as there was a fair bit of hype around it. I've got it on my wishlist, looking forward to reading it as I love reading about religious sects. Glad you enjoyed it :)

    1. In all shallowness, this only went on my radar because the hardback was gorgeous so it rather took me by surprise that it was about a sect. But I found it very enjoyable and probably would look out for other books about sects!


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