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Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesby

if i could fly hucklesby Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesby

On a superficial level, Robert Cormiers excellent'I Am the Cheese (see my review) involves protagonist Adams efforts to take a parcel to his father. But to summarise the book thus is deceptively simple: the narrative is complex and multi-layered, involving not just a physical journey, but a journey into the past, and one into Adams significantly disturbed mind. Its a challenging novel, and one that epitomises the sort of terrifying paranoia so rife in Cormiers work. Its not a dystopian novel as such, but there is certainly a sense of it, with issues of power and trust at the forefront of the narrative, and the incessant questioning of the true motives of those in prominent, governing positions.

If I Could Fly, the latest offering from British author Jill Hucklesby is almost an answer to the call Cormier places with I Am the Cheese, and mirrors this modern classic in myriad ways. Like Adam, Calypso Summers is undertaking a journey of her own, but in reverse: in her case the physical journey involves running from something, while her mental journey entails the opposite. A similarly terrifying setting is evoked, too, but where Cormier does so thematically, Hucklesby does so more literally, setting her novel in a dystopian context where a swine flu-like virus is sweeping through the United Kingdom and Europe, inducing the same sort of societal paranoia evident in Cormiers Cold War setting. Just like Adam, Calypso is always under threat, with similar fears of being turned in by others.

The narrative approach is similar, too, with Calypsos story being one that hinges largely on her internal growth and discovery, or re-discovery, as the case may be: like Adam, she too is missing an essential component of her past, without which the meaning and purpose of her journey is severely diminished. But curiously, where Cormiers novel becomes darker with every page, Hucklesbys remains upbeat. Where Adam feels in some ways broken, with his disenchantment becoming increasingly palpable as the story progresses, Calypso is the eternal optimist. Both carry with them a stuffed toy, but their purposes are the opposite: Adams is a reminder of his lost childhood, while Calypsos is a cheerful suggestion of what might still be despite her immensely challenging situation.

And indeed where Adams interactions are characterised by a fear precipitated by his rather Pavlovian past experiences, Calypsos are infinitely hopeful despite having been through her own personal traumas. There is a dreamlike, ethereal sense to these encounters that is the opposite of those found in Cormiers book, which feel similarly ungrounded, but have a nightmarish quality instead. Where Adam becomes increasingly alienated, and cuts himself off from those who potentially pose a threat, withdrawing into himself (and how thoroughly is the case we realise only at the books end), Calypso takes these threats and turns them into rich and psychically satisfying relationships. The lost and mad Dair becomes simultaneously a father figure and a dependant, becoming both protector and protected, while Andy, the face at the window (a notion that reminded me very much of Jean Ures excellent novel of the same name), rather than being a spectre that haunts, becomes someone who supports and fulfils Calypso instead.

Both books, of course, involve a final twist, neither of which I wish to give away, but I must say that I feel that Cormiers works more successfully than Hucklesbys, which feels almost platitudinous. Cormiers is perhaps one of the most terrifying, perfect endings Ive ever read, while for me, Hucklesbys, although in retrospect reasonably well telegraphed, weakens what was for me an otherwise pitch-perfect read (although it might be interesting to read this in tandem with Connie Williss Passage). Both are heart-rending, but where Cormiers is somehow inexorable, Hucklesbys feels a touch forced (although one does see the parallels with the famous Greek myth).

Theres so much more I could say about If I Could Fly, but given the above youve no doubt realised that this book has made rather an impression on me. Indeed, until the last two or so chapters, this was the most exquisitely written, stunningly executed book Ive come across in many months, and Im in awe of Hucklesbys skill as a writer. Her allusive approach towards setting and milieu, her wonderfully whimsical characterisation, her extraordinary way with words, and her wilful approach to narrative risk-takingI could rave for hours. Not since Cassandra Goldss wonderful The Three Lives of Persimmon (see my review)'have I wanted to buy a half dozen copies of a book and thrust it in the hands of anyone passing by. So, oh, how disappointed I was to read this ending, which turned something so heart-wrenchingly poignant and utterly enthralling into something slightly trite and saccharine. I think, given Hucklesbys willingness to tackle such complex issues with a sophisticated combination of levity and pragmatism, that I was expecting something just that little more challenging, and Im afraid this just doesnt quite deliver in those last few pages. 'But, still, this is one that will remain with you, and I recommend that you devote a few hours of your life to it.

Rating: star Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbystar Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbystar Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbystar Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbyblankstar Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesby (excellent)

With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont Australia for the review copy

Purchase If I Could Fly from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Other books by Jill Hucklesby:

samphire song hucklesby Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbylast kiss of the butterfly hucklesby Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesbydeeper than blue hucklesby Review: If I Could Fly by Jill Hucklesby


  1. Glad you enjoyed this, I was never much of a fan of I am the Cheese though I was pretty young when I read it and possibly the subtleties escaped me at the time.


    • Stephanie /

      Id recommend a re-read as you read this one, if you get a chance. :) I loved I am the Cheese, although I can see how it might one of those books that younger readers dont really identify with.

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