Review – Skellig by David Almond

Published in 1998, Skellig, won the Carnegie Medal as well as the Whitbread Children’s Book Award.  It’s a relatively short novel at 170 pages but one which encompasses a lot of important themes and images. 

Michael, our young narrator, is embarking on a new adventure with his family – new home, new area, new baby but unfortunately the baby has arrived too soon and ends up seriously ill in hospital in need of an urgent operation.  Left more or less to his own devices, Michael discovers a strange creature in their derelict garage – an angel like creature with less than angelic personal hygiene and a taste for Chinese takeaway, Aspirin and dead mice all washed down with some brown ale.  Michael tells us how he begins a rescue mission for Skellig, this strange being, aided and abetted by Mina, his new neighbour, a precocious, homeschooled girl who appears to be wise beyond her years.

This is a short, compact little novel, with elements of magical realism and great humour.  Skellig, whose name means “rock” in Irish, turns out to be a rock or haven for Michael during a turbulent time.  The novel has so much going on – angels, arthritis, homeschooling, magic, friendship, family relationships, youth versus age, William Blake.  Each chapter is very short so ideal for young readers.   The vocabulary is quite matter of fact and the language is never flowery or verbose.

On the negative side, for me, there is too much going on for anything to be dealt with in-depth.  The novel is an ideal length for a class novel for study at age 10/11+ but not long enough to address in any meaningful way the important themes which are raised.  Yes, it’s a wonderfully original tale but it seems to be trying to straddle different genres/age groups and ends up falling in between and losing its way – such a shame as it has such promise and could have been a very engaging book for young boys but I fear it might just bore them.  Maybe it’s the kind of book adults think young children should read.  Anyway, I have the film on DVD so it will be interesting to see if I actually like the film more than the book – once in a blue moon!

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2 Comments

  1. Jenny says:

    I’ve had the film around for a while and haven’t watched it yet – I need to though! I know it has Tim Roth and John Simm in it, and I am huge fans of theirs!

  2. admin says:

    The actors appeal more to me than the book, Jenny. I know Tim Roth is the angel – can’t think what part John Simm would play (the Master???? now that would be good ;-) )

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