A Grabby, Grotty World: The Monkey’s Mask

the monkey maskThe Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter

Fuelled by murder and a femme fatale, this is an erotic mystery novel written in verse. A female private detecitve investigates missing persons and gets a job to look for Mickey, who has been missing for two weeks. She begins by going to Mickey’s university to meet her poetry professor, Diana.

First Impressions: A novel of poems? Nothing to be scared of! You are quickly introduced to the detective and the crime like your standard crime novel.

Highlights: It’s been a while since I’ve read a verse novel (or similar) and The Monkey’s Mask reminded me that I should seek these out more often. I felt a real sense of the main character and the events in her life that led her to becoming a private detective. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the contemporary world of poets and poetry: cut throat and full of deception and lies. I feared this novel would be rather pretentious but the author paints a rather cynical portrait of the world (exactly who gets published? no surprise!) which I enjoyed and appreciated. I also enjoyed the glossary of Aussie terminology at the end. It is too easy to forget these unique turns of phrase!

If I was an editor: I became confused with the different male characters and kept getting them mixed up while the female characters were all distinct. Perhaps this was intentional as it is a feminist novel? Who knows! Clearly this novel also needs to be kept in wider circulation: I borrowed it from the local library but the copy was pre-self checkout as there was no barcode to scan. I had to go to the desk!

Overall: A unique and literary crime novel that lack pretension. Quick to read to boot.



The Weight of Water

The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

The Weight of Water is a novel in verse for children and early teens. Despite its simplicity, as an adult I found it poignant and touching. I feel that older teens will probably enjoy it too, particularly if they are in the process of learning English or are having friendship issues at school.

The story is told by Kasienka, a 12-almost-13-year-old who has arrived in Coventry with her mother. Originally from Gdansk in Poland, they are on a mission to find their missing husband and father. Kasienka has to adapt to living in cramped conditions and starting a new school where she is an outsider. The story is not so much one of family, but one of loneliness, bullying and fresh starts. Kasienka’s natural ability at swimming ties together all three of these ideas. Through verse, Kasienka delicately summarises the feelings and experiences of new immigrants as well as those who feel they are left on the margins.

I read this book in one sitting and highly recommend it. Kasienka’s character is realistic and it is hard not to warm to her. I would have liked to find out more about William, Kasienka’s friend at school, as his motivations aren’t always clear. However, it is an odd quirk of the book that I feel I know all of the immigrant characters better than the English characters, including those who appear frequently in the book. Perhaps this is a clever insight into how Kasienka relates to her new surroundings and social circles. My favourite character was Kenoro, the unassuming Kenyan neighbour.

With its interesting mix of unique characters and the skilful use of language and subject, I think this is a book all school libraries should purchase.

The Weight of Water: 5 stars

Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Two other verse novels for children that I recommend:

Make LemonadeMake Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Fourteen year old LaVaughn is looking for a job so she can start to save money for college. She ends up babysitting for Jolly, a seventeen year old single mother with two children to different fathers.

Out of the DustOut of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Fifteen year old Billie Jo is caught trying to survive in the Oklahoma dust bowl with her family in the 1930s.

Finally, a newly published verse novel for adults that is on my to read list:

The Marlowe PapersThe Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber. A thriller concerning who the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays really was.