David Almond seems to be having a purple patch in terms of writing at the moment. So many things are flowing from his pen, and this is the third time I’ve been to the library in recent weeks and found something by him that I hadn’t previously read. As you know, I love David Almond’s work, so this is not exactly a sadness to me.
I was thrilled to be able to take A Song for Ella Grey on holiday with me, and it is the first book I cracked open in front of the fire when we had unpacked.
I have never been disappointed by Almond, and A Song for Ella Grey was no exception. I ate this book up in an evening, and was sorry when it was finished.
This tells the story of Ella Grey and her doomed love for Orpheus, retelling the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in modern Northumberland.
Claire tells us the story of her best friend, Ella, who Claire loves, and, we get the feeling, who wishes Ella would love her back in the same way Claire loves her.
Ella is the adopted daughter of older parents, parents who are repressed and confused, and who do not cope well with the modern world. They do not understand their daughter, love her possessively though they do. They think the times she spends with Claire and their friends, laughing, drinking wine, making music, spinning stories, is a waste, that it is turning Ella into a dreamer who neglects her studies. They want Ella to stay away from Claire.
School life is intense. Exams are looming, and one half term, Claire and her friends take to the coast and spend days camped out on the sand, making merry and letting off steam. Claire wishes Ella were there, but her parents have forbidden her from coming with them.
One day, a stranger arrives amongst them, a young, beautiful traveller who seems to have no home but the road. He has a beaten up instrument which looks like nothing, but when he plays it, he can literally alter the world and the perception of those in it. Like the rats of Hamlyn, Claire and her friends fall in love with this man, who calls himself Orpheus, and they are entranced by the music he makes.
Claire calls Ella in the middle of all this, allowing Ella to listen to the music on her mobile phone. Orpheus speaks to Ella, and in that moment, their fate is sealed.
Claire tells us in song, and poem, and narrative the tragic tale of the two lovers, destined to love each other for eternity, yet torn apart by death and despair and whose journey into the underworld haunts her living moments.
It is eerie and otherworldly, magical and ethereal and yet solidly rooted in the Northern landscape Almond loves so much.
This is a book for teens aged 13 and upwards, dealing as it does with sex and death and containing a fair amount of swearing and violence. I would recommend it to girls, speaking mainly as it does through the voice of Claire and Ella, although its open mindedness about sexual orientation and its exploration of teenage confusion in relation to sexuality would make it an interesting book for the LGBT community too.