17 February 2013

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

Can there be any charm in a novel written about children used almost as slave labour? Indeed there can.  Ana Salote’s novel is a work of fantasy, where the rich may own ‘waif rights’, the right to use young children to work for little more than crumbs and water.

The author has created characters with that essential charm, humour and resourcefulness. As Oy Yew arrives to work for Master Jeopardine, he knows he must bring about change. With the help of his fellow waifs he learns how to survive.

I adored how Ana Salote was able to lift the mood of this story. Her plot entertained and amused with a gentle humour that came from the characters and their dialogue. Is there anything entertaining about working in drains, clearing blockages? Yes, if you’re Oy Yew.

Jeopardine’s decline into horrific madness offers readers of all ages the same thrill as Chitty’s Child Catcher. But earlier there’s the almost hysterical scene with Master Jeopardine and the measurer of the waifs, Miss Spindle.  Told with such subtlety, underplayed entirely, it was a genuine laugh out loud moment that goes against the apparent theme of the book.

I’ve used charm more than once in this review because I was charmed. There’s almost a feel of a classic about this novel. A generation ago it would have been adapted for Sunday afternoon TV - sitting well between John Halifax and The Moonstone.

Complete in its telling, I still hope this novel has a sequel.