Sunday, 21 December 2008


Dorothy Gael is an unhappy orphan living with her aunt and abusive uncle in Kansas in the 1880s; Frank Baum is a wandering actor, working as a teacher for a week or two he is inspired by the young girl in his class... Year later, Frances Gumm (better known as Judy Garland) is working on the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz; the film goes on to become a major success, and a huge part of the life of Jonathan, an actor dying from AIDS in the later 1980s. He searches for signs of the "real" Dorothy, spending his final days and hours searching for her home in Kansas.

Was is a beautiful story; it's quite dark in places, but some of the descriptions, particularly of Jonathan and his deterioration as his condition worsesns and the visons that he experiences as a result are heartbreaking. There are very few novels that I have read which have really hit me emotionally as I have sat there reading them (The Lord of the Rings, Flowers For Algernon, The Time Traveller's Wife) and had I not been on a train as I finished it this afternoon I am sure that I would have cried reading about Jonathan's final hours.

In the past I have wondered about a story where the character knows that their life is almost up, how they would approach it, what they would be thinking, how they would face it. I might write something in that vein one day, but I will think long and hard before I do; in Was, Geoff Ryman has written a beautiful and dreamlike story, and while some parts - particularly some aspects of Dorothy's life - have a difficult subject matter, it is never anything other than a terrific and compelling read.

1 comment:

mattiecore said...

that sounds really interesting... i'll have to look into that next time i'm shopping for books