THIS SUBJECT is of particular interest to a Catholic reviewing for a Catholic paper because it deals with (a) Northern Ireland today and (b) a miraculous (religious?) happening.
Maura's family is poor, and lives on "fry-ups" in overcrowded squalor.
Brother Kieran is a prisoner at the Maze, Da is off with the Provos; mongol Colleen at 18 has a baby's capacities, brother Patrick died of illness and so did Maura's twin, which leaves Ma, Maura, Foley and baby Darren.
One day at school Maura finds a girl who looks curiously like herself, takes her home, then to school, lives close to her for a while. Who is she?
When Maura finds her, she's naked. knows nothing about physical life (eating, drinking, excreting), nothing at all about the world, has no name but takes that of Angela.
Is she the ghost of Maura's dead twin, as Ma seems to think? Or, as Maura believes and seems to be suggested, Maura's guardian angel?
She puts some moral points across (such as mongol Colleen's closeness to God), she's beautiful, ethereal, loves earthly "life" in the ecstatic way of someone who has never experienced any of it, and is finally shot by British soldiers looking for the escaped Kieran. So what does it all mean, what is it trying to say?
To me, it conveys confusion and ambiguity, both moral and artistic.
The angel theme doesn't seem to rue to work, on a religious level or on a merely ghostly one; nor does it combine happily with the supposedly realistic story about present-day Belfast.
To interweave realism and fantasy is notoriously difficult; even more so when the realism involves politics in an explosively emotive present, and the fantasy involves religious beliefs and a rather tweelyobserved "miracle", if that's what it's meant to be.
Lynne Reid Banks, whose best-known book is The LShaped Room, spent a week with a Catholic family in Belfast (a week! Better than nothing, I suppose, but hardly suggesting an exhaustive knowledge of the Irish problem), then wrote this peculiar little tract for the times, with some really beautiful illustrations by Robin Jacques, which are far too good for the text.
Frankly, I curled up with embarrassment at the book's feyness, "Oirishness", religiosity and generally tasteless use of beliefs, ideas and attitudes. It took me back to the girl at school 1 heard saying, "I've had a vision", and the nun's brisk answer: "Take a pill, dear."