Monthly Archives: July 2014

Infinite Sky

C. J. Flood

Simon & Schuster

9780857078032

February 2013

hardback

Finished

For various reasons my reading of contemporary YA fiction was not as comprehensive during 2013 as it should have been and I found myself attending the presentation of this year’s Branford Boase Awards (for a first children’s novel) having only read two of the shortlisted books.The winning book, Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood, was not one of them.

When I interviewed Jon Walter recently (on publication of his debut novel Close To The Wind, which I can confidently predict will be shortlisted for the Branford Boase next year) he made a telling comparison between his own writing style and that of C. J. Flood’s, using the metaphor of photography. “Her writing is like she is looking through a 50mm lens the whole time and she doesn’t vary it. I think of distance a lot when I write, so I zoom in and zoom out. With her you feel she has this beautifully composed view that she moves around at the same focal length.” And in case this could be construed as an implied limitation, he added, “You have to be really skilled to do that well.”

Having now read (and enjoyed and admired in equal measure) C. J. Flood’s book, I can see exactly what Jon Walter meant. The novel has an emotional intensity that reminded me at times of the mood in some of Anthony Masters’ books, whose short YA fiction was popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Interestingly, the eviction of gypsies from a campsite was often the subject of one of Masters’ improvised Book Explosion events.

Here the gypsy encampment is small and is mainly a botheration to Iris’s father, who jumps to conclusions when his toolshed is broken into. The father’s fierce protectiveness towards both Iris and her older bother Sam are understood by the reader in relation to the fact that his wife, their mother, has recently abandoned home to go on a trip of self-discovery.

Flood’s handling of the romantic bond between the 13 year old female narrator, and the slightly older gypsy lad Trick, captures the magic of first love in writing that manages to be both lyrical and firmly realistic. Flood’s viewpoint may be, according to Walter’s observation, through a 50mm lens the whole time, but (to take the photographic analogy further) she knows just when to open up the aperture throwing the surround into soft-bokeh relief. The small rendezvous that they kit out with cushions for their trysts is only visited on a few occasions, the last time by Iris on her own, but the reader is left feeling they know this place as well as the characters in the story. (The hardback had a wholly suitable illustrated cover design, which I wish had been retained for the first paperback edition – the latest paperback cover shown above is much much better.)

I did not anticipate the dark and violent turn of events, but was swept along by them. Notwithstanding the book’s Prologue (which personally and in retrospect I consider to be an ill-judged inclusion), you start reading Infinite Sky lulled by the mood of summer, by the title, and the fact that young first love is in the air, into thinking that all will stay rather lovely and soft-focus, with the occasional conflict between siblings, and between parents and children, not knowing that tragedy and inescapable retribution are just around the corner.

A superb novel, a well-deserving winner of the Branford Boase Award, and a book that cries out to be filmed.