Saturday, 30 March 2013


This review is a little out-of-the-normal for me, as it's of a chapter book and not a picture book. Orion Press asked me if I would review this for them, and being keen to support Irish authors, I took them up on the offer. Hagwitch is a novel for older children by the Irish author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick - she has also written some picture books which look good - watch this space for more reviews.

Hagwitch is a novel which is split between two eras. Lally is the daughter of a puppeteer living on a barge in modern day London, while Flea is a playwright's apprentice in 16th Century London. The style reminded me of Daphne du Maurier, with a little touch of Angela Carter added in to keep the style contemporary without losing it's magical Gothic atmosphere. I was impressed by the mature tone set by Fitzpatrick (I may just be getting old, but I had to stop listening to Radio One because I just felt it was really patronising and made me cringe). I also didn't feel like I was reading a book that had to stop and explain itself any more than a good adult's book would, or that it was dumbed down in any way. It may have been a long time ago that I was young, but I certainly remember strongly disliking several books which just struck me as hollow and talking down to me.

Lally has grown up without her mother. She, rather unusually, calls her dad Eoin, and is quite happy to take on two of the other travelling performers in the floating puppet-show as her mother-figures. It's as if she has been fostered into this theatrical family; she does ask about her birth mother, but does not dwell on her loss or feel like a victim because of it. The only company that she is in want of is someone her own age.

With the company of a boy her own age, Gilles, who comes to live on the Beetle from Paris with his mother, comes the unravelling of Lally's world. Lally's world is antiquated and isolated. The French duo introduce her to Ipads and Facebook. For the first time she admits to herself that she is just too scared to ask about her mother. She runs away and questions her relationship to Eoin; she realises that needs to experience more than just the comfort of her life on The Beetle.

The story of Flea is interspersed with Lally's story, telling of his time with the theatre and his parallel experience with a block of Hawthorne. The Hawthorne adds the supernatural element to the story. In the 16th century, it's sprite controls Flea's master, while in the present day it controls Eoin. Both men are spurred into a flurry of destructive creativity; both men are lucky enough  to have young wards who are able to see what is happening and care enough take drastic steps to save them. There's a good balance of tension and the story really picks up pace towards the end with the dark goings on surrounding what turns out to be the same cursed tree.

I ended the story with a real sense of belonging, what it is to be part of a small community with a sense of family. Both Lally and Flea are separated for a time from their families but don't lose the bond they have forged. Their respective stories show that is ok to care, that it's normal for families to fight and that it's normal to get through it. And all nicely told without being sentimental about it.

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