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Helen Dunmore
Oct 2005
Ours is a land steeped in stories. Books which unite magical secondary worlds with our real landscapes, which can be found on a map, have a special appeal. Like legends which promise �look carefully � Arthur lies there still� they make young readers feel initiated into secret layers of reality that grown ups are too blind and too boring to notice.

Ingo is such a book. It begins with the mermaid of Zennor, a real carving you can find in a real church in Cornwall. A Cornish legend tells how Mathew Trewhella was bewitched with love for the mermaid, and plunged into the sea with her, never to be seen again. Dunmore�s heroine, Sapphire, also lives in Cornwall, and also knows a Mathew Trewhella � her father. This is the tale of his disappearance, and Sapphy�s quest to find him, which leads her deep into the amazing underwater world of Ingo.

Following her brother Conor down to the cove near their cottage, she meets Faro � one of �the Mer� with the body of a boy and the tail of a seal. Faro gives Sapphy her first intoxicating taste of Ingo, and soon she is in danger of becoming hooked, and disappearing off the face of the earth just like her father.

The pull of the sea has always seduced women writers. The wave of recent mermaid books (Liz Kessler�s Emily Windsnap novels, Heather Dyer�s Fish in Room 11, not to mention the shoals of glitter-coated books for younger girls) testifies that female readers are still fascinated.

They will find this book a pleasingly easy read, thanks to its clear exposition and accessible language (Dunmore making a conscious effort to explain unfamiliar vocabulary). Yet there are also subtle depths here - when Faro stares at Sapphy�s legs and calls her �divided� he sums up her soul as much as her body.

This opposition between the sea and the earth is beautifully depicted. Dolphin rides versus a pet dog. Surfing the currents versus tea and cake. Sapphy�s wild imagination versus Conor�s dependable practicality.

Sapphy�s imaginings and emotions are convincingly portrayed, especially her feelings towards her family - how it feels to be the younger sibling, always following behind, the ever-present loss and longing for her father, the yearning for the company of her over-worked mother. Children will also identify with her thirst for thrills and freedom.

The story picks up great pace towards the end of the book, ensuring that readers will be left eager to pick up the next part of this engaging trilogy.

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This page contains a single entry by Dawn Casey published on November 22, 2005 9:55 PM.

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