Rob Davis returns to the world he created in The Motherless Oven for another off-kilter tale, this time focusing on the story of Vera Pike. It clearly says as much on the blurb on the back, but I just dived straight in, thinking this was a separate story, so it came as quite a nice surprise when it tied in to the previous book. But that’s by-the-bye.
Vera lives in Grave Acre where her imperious and somewhat frightening mother is the Weather Clock and her poor old Dad is a small can opener. Vera’s mother is also the Prime Minister, so they reside in Parliament where Vera is expected to stay out of the way, especially when her mother has been drinking. This sows the seeds of her rebelliousness and leaves her stranded as a boarder in a private school, a suicide school, no less. As Vera’s mother continues to dominate and overshadow her life, it hardens her resolve and sets her on a course of complete defiance that connects up with, and continues, the tale from The Motherless Oven.
But there’s much more than that. Davis has created something self-contained and extremely odd, with its own internal logic. It defy’s the natural world, and is downright creepy at times, but at its heart it’s a British coming-of-age adventure story, even if the Britain it portrays is not Britain at all but an odd distortion. Undoubtedly strange, it takes its twisted ideas and forms a logical narrative in an illogical setting, so when Vera is taking part in her ridiculous lessons at school it draws on the parallels many a child has experienced of being left behind in a baffling class and you can’t help but will her on. Her own struggle with her parents reflects many a young teens’ dawning realisation of who they are and where they’re going, and what, if anything, they can do about it. It’s just that Vera’s existence is rather different to the average kid.
The Motherless Oven deservedly received outstanding praise, and Davis hasn’t rested on his laurels for this second book. I doubt you’ll read anything quite like it, but all the same, do read it.
And if you liked that: Get hold of The Motherless Oven if you’ve not already done so