Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):
In novel after novel, and story after story, Charles de Lint has brought an entire imaginary North American city to vivid life. Newford: where magic lights dark streets; where myths walk clothed in modern shapes; where a broad cast of extraordinary and affecting people work to keep the whole world turning. At the center of all the entwined lives in Newford stands a young artist named Jilly Coppercorn, with her tangled hair, her paint-splattered jeans, a smile perpetually on her lips--Jilly, whose paintings capture the hidden beings that dwell in the city's shadows. Now, at last, de Lint tells Jilly's own story...for behind the painter's fey charm lies a dark secret and a past she's labored to forget. And that past is coming to claim her now. "I'm the onion girl," Jilly Coppercorn says. "Pull back the layers of my life, and you won't find anything at the core. Just a broken child. A hollow girl." She's very, very good at running. But life has just forced Jilly to stop.

And here's what I thought:   Several years ago, I discovered this author in my library, and I read book after book, glutting myself on his stories.   And then, I felt a little too full (kind of like gorging on a delicious meal ... until suddenly you feel a bit stuffed and sick).    But, since then, I have come back again to some of his books, and re-read them over a few times.  

I have sometimes wondered just what it is about this book that has made me pull it from my shelf for an occasional re-read.  Maybe it's the author's blending of stories, where there are elements of Native American tales and mythology, with a contemporary setting and characters, and then adding in a dream world.   Maybe it's some of the characters, who I feel I'd like to know in real life.  I'm not sure, but either way, every time I read this book, I enjoy as much as I did the first time.

As you can see from the summary, this story focuses on Jilly, an artist who has just experienced a horrible accident.   While she has created a life and family of friends for herself in Newford, it seems like she can never quite escape her past.  

The story alternates between Jilly's waking time in Newford, recovering, but also her time spent in the dreamworld, where there are people who can walk between both worlds.   It's a beautiful, but dangerous place to be.   DeLint does a wonderful job of creating both places, I think.  Newford seems like a place I could actually see being possible (more or less), and in my mind, I imagine it being like a much smaller version of Chicago --- or perhaps a place like Louisville or Minneapolis.   The dreamworld he creates is wonderful and scary, and I like how it can be somewhat different for the people who can enter it, like Jilly and some of her friends.

And speaking of her friends, there are recurring characters in many of DeLint's stories, like Jilly, which I like.  I feel like when I encounter them, that I already know them, or know of them through another character.  He imbues a lot of them with some pretty interesting characteristics, which make them memorable.

I will say, though, that the one thing I can get a little frustrated with is that sometimes, it seems like the author is weaving in too many storylines.   They sometimes get a little tangled, and then it seems like they speed up to converge and get resolved at the end, which can feel a little rushed.  In this book, we have Jilly's story, as well as that of her long-lost sister, and those two storylines are enough.  However, there are some other threads running through the story that at times can become too convoluted.

But, overall, I do enjoy this book each time I read it.  If you're new to DeLint, I would recommend beginning with some of his short stories, to introduce yourself to Newford and some of the characters.   That way, you have some familiarity before venturing into a full-length novel.

First lines:  Once upon a time ...
I don't know what makes me turn.  Some sixth sense, prickling the hairs at the nape of my neck, I guess.  I see the headlights.  They fill my world and I feel like a deer, trapped in their glare.  I can't move.  The car starts to swerve away from me, but it's already too late.


Anonymous said...

I love de Lints books.

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