Review of The Tight-Rope Walkers

almond_tight-rope walkersstar2 The Tight-Rope Walkers
by David Almond
High School   Candlewick   326 pp.
3/15   978-0-7636-7310-9   $17.99   g

Dom is a clever, working-class boy from the north of England, beloved of his teachers, the hope of his parents. It’s the early 1960s, an optimistic period in British education, when the son of a shipbuilder could plausibly end up at Oxford. We follow Dom from ages five to seventeen as he forges his own values; succumbs to the lure of Vincent, the troubled, violent neighborhood thug; falls in love with his childhood pal Holly; and discovers himself as a writer. In all these areas of life he learns to walk a tightrope both literal and figurative. There’s no cool here, no distancing irony or comforting hipness. It’s all intense, profoundly unsettling emotion. Almond limns the nature of joy and rage in all his work, but here he pulls out all the stops. Through Dom we experience the unimaginable pain of his mother’s death, the liberation and grief of rejecting religion, and the sadistic, homoerotic lure of Vincent. The violence is hard to take, all the more so because the writing is so controlled and powerful. The novel is Shakespearean in its breadth, earthiness, and emotional pitch. A mysterious tramp who wanders in and out of the narrative — unspeaking, benevolent, holy — is like a precursor of Skellig. It ends with a wedding and a newborn baby, but that final section is a Rorschach test for the reader. Is the overall mode comedic or tragic? There is much room for discussion in this difficult and brilliant novel.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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