Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner; illustrated by Julian Crouch

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maggot moonMaggot Moon by Sally Gardner; illustrated by Julian Crouch
Candlewick, 2013

I got an email recently from Goodreads telling me that I was in the top 1% of reviewers (by quantity not necessarily quality!) and my most liked and commented on post was for Maggot Moon. So I thought I’d share my review, with some tweaks here:

What an amazing read! I re-read this as soon as I’d finished it – first time I’ve ever done that. This is like reading 1984 narrated by Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

It is set in a 1956 in which the Britain lost the war. It is not explicitly stated which dictatorship now rules England, but there are clues. One of the elite kids is called Hans, a teacher has a Hitler-style toothbrush mustache, and the flags are red, black and white, all suggesting a Nazi victory. However, the home of the ruling class is referred to as the Motherland, which suggests the USSR, rather than the Fatherland of Nazi Germany. Maybe Ms Gardner did not want to be specific, or maybe she wanted it to be an amalgam.

Standish Treadwell and his grandfather live in Zone Seven – where the ‘impure’ are sent. Standish is dyslexic (maybe, again never stated explicitly) and it is his use of language that makes this such an incredible read – he is not a ‘train track thinker’ and twists everyday adages which creates startling new images, “a hare’s breath” for example.The story is rooted in Standish’s beautifully evoked friendship with Hector, a new arrival to the area, and a mysterious spaceman they meet.

The illustrations of rats, flies and maggots, which run along the bottom of the pages like a flip cartoon, baffled me at first, but on the second reading I could see how they run as a harmony to the prose, as well as personifying (if that’s what it is with an animal) the corruption, decay and rot at the heart of the Motherland. In the text itself, there is some brutal violence which is made worse by the apparent everyday casualness of its occurrence – it is not Hollywood movie violence, but is imaginably and viscerally real.

This is a really short book – 100 chapters, some of which are only a paragraph long – and deceptively simple, but as the author does not spell everything out for the reader it is a densely rich,intense, and rewarding read.

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