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Growing Up Lost
on November 29, 2003
In a weird mood I decided to buy most of the books that were shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize. I read Vernon God Little right after it won, and thought that it was an interesting experiment. Then a couple of days ago I picked up Clare Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour. Is it a better first novel than Vernon God Little? Should it have won the Booker instead? I can't believe how inconsequential the question now seems to me. "DBC Pierre"'s novel was more daring, but it's Clare Morrall's that will remain with me. It's not perfect, but it's astonishingly well written for a first novel (although since Ms Morrall has grown children, according to the blurb, one assumes she has a lifetime of well chosen, deeply embedded reading). There are a couple of plot twists that I should have been anticipating, but frankly I was simply too engrossed with reading the novel to think that far ahead. There are other plot elements toward the end that are not explained at all, although I personally think this may be a strength rather than a weakness: life cannot always be neatly wrapped up in plot denouements. The description in the British paperback I read (with a different, superior cover than the American edition, for what it's worth) describes the novel as a reflection of Morrall's "interest in the dynamics of motherless family life and in synaesthesia -- a condition in which emotions are seen as colours." That makes it all sound very clinical. What it's about is more simply families and children, and the heartbreak you feel when the narrator says four pages from the end, "I don't think I've grown up. I don't feel important enough." If you've ever been a "lost child," or lost a child, or a mother, or a brother, or a sister, read it and respect its hard-earned tears and minor victories.