I’m a longtime fan of Valentine – she has a way of describing things that just feels right; a way of expressing things in a recognizable but beautifully lyrical way. Her characters combine perceptive everyday observation set alongside a rich and reflective emotional inner life and I find that sentences and scenes are still percolating through my thoughts long after I’ve finished reading.
Reading Fire Colour One was certainly no exception – it’s lyrical without being saccharine and it packs a powerful emotional punch without being overly sentimental. Iris, the focus and narrator of the tale is an awesome character – full of rage and tenderness; at times incredibly perceptive and at others consumed with blinding loneliness and despair – she is utterly beguiling. But then the whole ambition of the book is beguiling – it’s the bittersweet tale of parent and child reunited, it’s the hopeful tale of a girl coming to understand her place in the world (where she came from and who she is) and it’s also a wonderful discussion on the power and nature of art in the twenty-first century (I defy you not to Google Yves Klein by the end of the book!) with a healthy dose of social commentary about materialism and consumerism to boot. It’s a lot to hope for from such a slim volume but Valentine totally pulls it off and what’s more throws in a brilliantly satisfying twist at the end.
In the resources section of the Shadowing site there’s a talking point which asks ‘what did the title, Fire Colour One, lead you to expect from the book?’ I’ve thought about this question a lot – I’m not really sure what I expected but despite the titular ‘fire’ I certainly wasn’t expecting pyromania nor was I expecting contemporary performance art. Neither did the title suggest family saga or coming of age story. It’s made me realise that it really is a book which defies conventions. Having had conversations with several of our Shadowers, I’ve realised too that this is precisely what they have loved about it – for most it’s nothing like anything that they’ve ever read before and once again reminds me of the amazing effect the showing scheme has. This really does represent outstanding literature and it’s being read by thousands of children and young adults who perhaps would never have come across Jenny Valentine’s books otherwise. Amazing!
(adapted from original post What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Carnegie Longlist)