Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, reviewed by Simon Mason
Simon Mason quite likes this ‘dotty’ novel. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it when I read it, and felt it somehow missed being a great read. I shall be interested to see what children make of it…
Katherine Rundell’s charmingly lyrical style is dotty in the way Charles is dotty. In the London section she seems interested mainly in conversations, which have a high quota of witticism (wearing a skirt, Sophie looks as if she’s "mugged a librarian") and aphorisms (lawyers have all "the decency and courage of lavatory paper"). In general, her metaphors are determinedly original. Such verbal showiness, though entertaining, has the disadvantage of showing up the misses as well as the successes, and in the early stages the story has the contrived manner, but not the solidly exciting matter, of a fairytale.
This changes the moment Sophie climbs up through the skylight in her Parisian hotel bedroom to the rooftop above. All her life she has been a keen tree-climber, drawn to heights. Now, standing above the city, she is liberated – and the story is liberated with her. Almost immediately she realises she’s not alone up there. A feral boy called Matteo lives on the roof of the law courts, and the drama of his encounter with Sophie and their subsequent partnership is thrilling. The roof-top world is grittily real, the stuff of broken toes and roasted rat and howling gales. Breaking away from Charles’s protection, Sophie finally expresses the Pippi Longstocking-like wilfulness only coyly hinted at before. Even the showy metaphors thin out. There’s a gripping journey of exploration, an extraordinary feast and a tremendous fight between Sophie, Matteo and their tree-dwelling friends and a wolf-like pack of boys from the station area.