As soon as I saw The Double Shadow come into the store, the cover and the concept caught my fancy, so I picked up the hardback come payday, and finally got round to finishing it last week! I have a ridiculous amount to read right now…
The Double Shadow is set in a huge timespan, beginning in early 30’s, after the First World War, and stretching until VE Day of The Second, in 1945. It follows the life of two individuals, and the epic world and events that are forced upon them by the intentions and desires of an adult world. Amaryllis Ruben is the 16 year old daughter of visionary and wealthy Arnold Ruben, a girl whose memories from her childhood are all but disappeared, with a father who keeps such a distance from her that she feels cold and alone in a world of wealth and privilege. Ezra Pascoe is the son of a shell-shocked war veteran and the head cook at the Ruben estate, and currently enduring private tutorship with the loathsome young Amaryllis. The pair do not get on, and Ezra finds her bratty, rebellious and teasing behaviour nearly unbearable. It’s not until he starts to understand her crushing loneliness is the root of her personality, and soon the two are fast friends, with a burgeoning romantic link between them. Amaryllis confesses that her home schooling is because of her deciding to get drunk at boarding school, leading to her being raped by an overbearing rival of her fathers, after compromising photo’s to use against him. Her shame is matched only by the complete disdain of her father, and she finds her comfort in Ezra completely unexpected. Then she decides to show him what her father has been working on his whole life, spent his fortune on with the help of mysterious engineer Silas Molde: The Picture Palace.
Appearing to be a simple cinema, the Picture Palace hides a secret of a invention from a visionary and genius, known as the Memory Machine. The dream of Arnold Ruben was to be able to record the memories of anyone, alter and erase them at will, and replay them endlessly, essentially allowing himself to live in his own past forever, reliving all his favourite moments, with none of the painful memories. Amaryllis fears this may be the key to her forgotten past, but she has no idea what her father is trying to hide from her. One night, a terrible fire destroys the Ruben estate, and a number of people are found missing. Most stunning of all, the Picture Palace itself is gone, not just burned down, but vanished. Ezra is devastated, Amaryllis and his father are both gone, along with Silas Molde, and Arnold Ruben has been shot dead. He is approached by agents of the government who believe the Picture Palace has ascended to another plain of existence, taking anyone inside with it. As the years start to fly by, those inside are doomed to relive a hazy and confused maze of memories. Ezra is trained by the government and the army, so that should the Picture Palace reappear on the state, he may be sent in to rescue all those trapped inside. As the years pass though, the Second World War takes effect, and the state of Britain is torn open. When the Palace finally appears, will Ezra know what to do? And will those inside really want to come back to a world ravaged by war?
The Double Shadow is a great novel, and hugely epic and ambitious in it’s stretch of time. The backdrop of a time when the real ugly face of modern humanity was starting to show itself helps to lend the characters and the plot a sense of loneliness and show them as unable to cope with the fast world events of an adult world that is completely out of their control. This world of destruction and change, a time when science was on the cusp of realising the impossible, is really brought to beautiful and stark life through Sally Gardner’s writing, and she paints a fantastic picture of the importance of a loving family. Most importantly is the theme of course, of memory. The Double Shadow works with the idea that memories are important, something to be cherished and used as a learning experience, regardless of whether they are bad, something we never want to think about. We need our memories, because without them, we lose our loved ones, and who we are at our very core.
The character’s in The Double Shadow are wonderfully complicated a textured, and the author has clearly gone to a good amount of effort in fleshing out their personalities, from the spoilt little rich girl who’s really quiet depressed and lonely, to the simple Ezra, who learns so much more than he ever imagined from his love for Amaryllis and from his experiences throughout the book. His character particularly evolves beautifully from an awkward country teen to a strong, intelligent and compassionate young man, struggling to find his place in a complex world of World Wars and Memories of his lost childhood sweetheart. Amaryllis’ plight is almost a tragic fairytale in a more modern setting. Trapped in time, and in memories, she’s like Rapunzel in her castle tower, only for her, it’s the Picture Palace slipping in and out of time. The support characters in Ezra’s family, Silas, Arnold and the rest are all fantastic, compassionate, flawed and ultimately very recognisably human, making the story excellently propelled, no matter whose perspective the narrative is coming from.
All in All, The Double Shadow is a wonderful delight to read. Both engaging and heart-pounding, it’s a book of despair, love, loss and tragedy, with a strong sense of counting the important things in life. Because after all, when they’re gone, all we have is memories…
‘Till Next Time!