A reader does need to be patient with this novel initially but the rewards are great take it from one who generally finds textual quirks an irritant you quickly accommodate to unpunctuated paragraphs that perfectly encapsulate the narrator’s voice not voice as in audible speech he Elliott barely able to move due to cerebral palsy is using some kind of device to relate the great adventure of his childhood when in the late seventies without communication aids he made a new friend.
The nuns who run the ward lack the patience to interpret much beyond the basics of the noises through which Elliott tries to connect and that some of the supposedly unintelligent children his peers on the ward do understand or perhaps the nuns’ creed dictates patience is unnecessary superfluous when curiosity is to be discouraged as potentially the work of the devil and children even children disadvantaged by their disabilities and abandonment by families cannot be indulged or even educated and must sacrifice the small pleasures of sugar during Lent.
Elliot although sometimes downhearted is extraordinarily patient in tolerating the Sisters’ foibles delusions blinkers and occasional forgetting to turn him at night so he cannot sleep for the pain but mostly patient in envisaging then implementing his plan to get closer to the new boy Jim who is blind and also non-verbal but strong and rebellious so that somehow together they will pass through the forbidden wooden gate to the lifts to the ground floor to the outside and most wonderfully generously take the reader with them to a beautiful jubilant resolution even though we know there can be no happy ever after we close the book with a sense of having been transformed the world a better place because of Elliott although the nuns might call it heavenly holy divine but we know is simply the human condition.
Thank you Toby Litt for writing this novel thank you Galley Beggar Press for publishing it thank you my half a dozen followers for reading this review I hope you will go on to read this novel and tell me what you think of because even though I made a silly video of me unwrapping the book for TikTok I had no idea it would be this good.
So now because unlike Elliott I’m shameless I’m going to try to persuade you of my link to this author whom I’ve never met or previously read who is the fiction editor of the Mechanics Institute Review that has published two of my longer short stories one now in the collection of stories about daughters which you can read when you sign up to my newsletter by clicking on the image and also to persuade you of the connection between Elliott’s story and my longer fiction some of which is about a character not a child but nevertheless vulnerable shut away with limited opportunities and in the prequel novella which I will publish some time this year 2022 she and a friend escape the confines of the hospital on an adventure of their own.
You see a void, I see the cosmos in this imperfectly painted white wall. Brushstrokes are birds, blemishes mountains, as I dream, as I ponder and fly. My wheelchair’s a chariot, as I drive the horses, I sing them an aria to carry us up and away. Or it’s a balloon, not the kind on a card but filled with hot air raising a basket and we look down on the earth with a grin. If all you can see is a boy without speech without movement parked next to nothing, then it must be your perception that’s flawed.