Thursday, December 02, 2010
Philip Pullman - The Ruby In The Smoke
This is a novel for young adults. So the structure and plot is not as complex as adults might expect. It is however deeply descriptive and for those who know East London, it certainly feels real. Indeed I wouldn't have been surprised if Pullman had tramped the streets of London to get the descriptions right. There are shocks, and Pullman doesn't hide any of the nastiness of Victorian poverty. In fact he highlights it, partly I think to underline the horrible future that Sally faces, should she fail in her adventure.
As in so many other novels aimed at this age group, most of the people who Sally meets are kind, and she falls on her feet many times. Though at one point late in her adventure, the expected rescue is nothing of the kind. Sally travels back and forth across London, eventually facing down her evil enemy, who is a brilliantly realised nemesis aimed particularly to frighten, or at least un-nerve younger readers.
Pullman has created a brilliantly realised world. It evokes a time of poverty, hunger and unemployment, when women were expected to know their place, but were people were already questioning the social setup. Later novels in the series develop this further, exposing and challenging other aspects of Victorian society (anti-Semitism for instance).
In many ways Ruby is a precurssor to the Dark Materials, not by content but by structure and emotion. It's a great read for an adult, it'd be amazing for younger readers.