THE SHELL HOUSE by Linda Newbery


Age Range: 14 & up
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Two stories, past and present, twine together in this haunting British exploration of faith and sexuality. In the past, Lt. Edmund Pearson, scion of a landed family, finds love and loses his faith in the trenches of WWI. In the present, Greg, a working-class teenager, finds himself struggling with both. Physically uniting the two stories is Graveney Hall, the seat of the Pearsons; in its full splendor in the WWI storyline, it has been reduced to a burned-out shell by Greg’s time. The parallel stories play off each other perfectly; at the beginning of the novel, Edmund is unabashedly in love with Alex—and Alex with Edmund. Greg is far less certain of himself. He has begun to cultivate a quiet and rewarding friendship with Jordan, a swimmer whose body becomes the subject of some fabulously sensuous writing. At the same time, he encounters Faith while taking photographs around the grounds of Graveney Hall; her outspoken Christianity becomes both an irritant and a fascination for him as he rather chaotically tries to sort out his maturing relationship to the world. If the novel is prone to frequently stagy discussions of God and sex in both times, it is also magnificently paced, unfolding deliberately according to its own rules. Both the ardent Edmund and the less-certain Greg are well realized and thoroughly engaging. The secondary characters are somewhat less so—both Alex and Jordan seem almost too good to be true, although appealing in that goodness, and Faith is simply a cipher, more an eponymous symbol than a human being. These flaws aside, it stands as an ambitious, multilayered, and above all literary contribution to a literature that all too often seeks to dodge complexity. Newbery’s fluid prose has been retained almost entirely intact from the original British, grounding the story firmly in its all-important setting—a welcome change from the trend among American publishers to try to pretend that Britain is simply a far-flung extension of the States. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-75011-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: David Fickling/Random
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2002


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