Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer
"What did you say?" asked a familiar voice.
Thomas couldn't keep his eyes open, he was so sleepy.
"I said, 'Come on, love, come and join us,'" he murmured.
"Okay", said Jesus. The Lord sat down on the edge of Thomas's bed.
This little book came out a few years ago, and I thought it was wonderful. Every few years I start to wonder if it really is as good as I remember it, and I spend some time curled up with it again. Yes, it is just as good.
The Book of Everything was originally published in the Netherlands, where Guus Kuijer is a well established writer. I think it's one of the best examples of magic realism in children's fiction I've ever seen. The mood Kuijer conjures up is hard to describe--the themes are shadowy and threatening, and Thomas, our child protagonist, is very innocent, so we feel protective of him. At the same time, there are some fiesty, powerful characters, like Aunt Pie and Mrs. van Amersfoort, who champion the side of right. There's a sense of wonder and even humour at the unexpected occurances in the story, and just a hint of awe at the glimpses of the Divine we are privileged to see through Thomas's eyes. This is a story where the biblical merges with the supernatural to unusual and beautiful effect. As Patrice Kindl said, "this book glows".
The Book of Everything is about the disconnection that can occur between God and religion. It's about the pain that can hide in the heart of families living with abuse, the pain that mirrors the darkness of the world. It's also about bravery and the secret of happiness. It's about miracles and witchcraft. But most of all, it's about Thomas, a young boy who sees things no one else can see, a boy who wants to be happy when he grows up. A boy who all the angels in heaven are hopelessly in love with. And probably a few readers too.