Renee Reviews: Christina Meldrum's - "Madapple"

The secrets of the past meet the shock of the present, in a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention—and of the darkest corners of the human soul.

Having heard a great deal of praise from Misty over at The Book Rat regarding this debut novel, I was interested in picking it up, just to see if I found it as original and intriguing as it claimed to be.

Madapple certainly has a unique set-up, structurally. It opens with a flashback that seemingly offers little, but in fact provides many hints as to later plot points (yes, I am proud of myself for recognising them immediately) We then jump straight into the middle of a court proceeding, in which our heroine Aslaug is on trial for a double – possible triple – murder. This court case, relayed via transcripts, features in fragments throughout the narrative proper, and often provides tasty little teasers into the action to come. It’s an incredibly effective device, even if I wonder at how many times a lawyer can possibly object to the ‘relevance’ of an answer!

The central story focuses on 17 year-old Aslaug and her far from typical coming-of-age upon the death of her protective and deeply troubled mother, with whom she spent her childhood living in isolation. As a protagonist, Asluag has an incredibly definitive narrative voice, shaped largely by her unconventional education steeped in botany (each chapter title is a different native plant/flower) religion, mythology and science. The reader immediately empathises with Asluag if for no other reason than her extreme ignorance as to her own past, the wider world and to humankind, and upon her encountering the characters of The Pastor, Sanne and Rune, you know that conflict is sure to arise and revelations are to be made.

From the outset, I had already set up some parallels in my mind between this title and The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (check it out!!) and indeed, they did prove to have similar tones and a few matching themes and narrative strands. But I think because I had already experienced plenty of ‘shocking revelations’ in the latter, and in my recent readings of fairy tale retellings, then some of the more horrific elements of Madapple failed to have quite as big an impact as perhaps intended. Some reveals I predicted early on, and so when they eventually made their appearance, I was left feeling a little disheartened with how they measured up to my expectations. That said, there are most definitely aspects of this novel that might prove difficult for some to read about, so just note that there is some darker content touched upon.

Character-wise Madapple has a rare distinction in that I found every single character to be – to some extent – mentally, emotionally and morally unstable, and thus I was often questioning the reliability of Asluag’s narration and the testimonies of others. I am not dismissing this, for in having me second-guess almost everybody it certainly made for a more active association with the material! However, I will say that, despite wanting the best for Aslaug on principle, I ultimately struggled to relate to anybody or find them truly sympathetic – and it also meant that the somewhat ‘happy ending’ left me feeling uneasy, dissatisfied and a tad concerned.

Madapple is both a dense and gripping read, and undoubtedly crosses over into some very interesting territory. I would highly recommend it to anybody seeking a change from the more standard YA fare.

Madapple – Christina Meldrum

Knopf Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 0375851763

May 13th 2008

410 pagesmore details…

  • I think you’re always meant to doubt everyone and be suspicious of everything because that’s Aslaug’s world, but I think some things are sort of foregone conclusions. But maybe that’s just me; I can’t remember the last book I didn’t figure out really early on. For me it’s in how things come about, and that very suspicion and second guessing is what makes this book so fascinating to me. And the sympathetic-yet-not characters. The reluctance and yet unavoidability of connecting to these very damaged, “off” people. It sticks with you.

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