Cuckoo Song is the second Frances Hardinge novel I’ve read. The other was The Lie Tree. Their target audience is Young Adults and Children. I’ve not been that for fifty years, but I guess we’re all children at heart. And Hardinge is a terrific and must-read author.
The question of who we are becomes what we are? Doppelgangers and memory is spliced with folklore, fairy tales and warped visions of reality. Violet, Sebastian’s left-behind fiancée, is also a magical character. Hardinge has a fondness for strong women and weak-minded, egotistical, and foolish men such as Mr Piers Crescent, architect, and father of all the trouble and strife.
The template for her books seems pretty similar. We tweak and just write the same book, again and again (well, I do, hoping I’ll get it right). We have upright, Victorian dad, a pillar of the community, but is not quite what he seems. Flawed and rotten. Mother is a dependent on the father, a purveyor of Victorian society and the class system, where one knows one’s place. Women, in particular, are frail beings. Triss is a sickly child, mollycoddled by both parents after the loss of their son Sebastian in the First World War. A sick family. Mother and father ‘teach her how to be ill’. The book begins with Triss having an accident. Her younger sister Pen, a spiteful tomboyish ball of energy, insists Triss that emerges from a stretch of water called the Grimmer, after a near drowning, is not Triss.
His children, real and created, need to put the pieces back together again and the world to rights.
Hardinge has some great descriptive phrases such as, ‘Neglect had given the Old Dock a dangerous air, like a half-starved dog’.
Triss in finding herself Not Triss and finally, a separation of self, as ‘Time Runs Out’ and she falls apart, Trista (which means sad) must defy the Architect, and bind the others to herself to stop the world and not become the monster she was meant to be. Read on and it will all fit together with in a jigsaw, picturesque, kind of way.