Friday, 20 June 2014

Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers begins with a one year old baby floating in the sea in an cello case as a ship submerges in the distance. Scooped out of the water by the eccentric, bookish oddball Charles Maxim, he vows to be her guardian, unaccustomed though he is to babies (and people in general). He names her Sophie, an ordinary name to counterbalance an extraordinary start in life. She grows up to be an oddball free spirit herself, fond of Shakespeare and books, understanding dreams and nature and learning never to ignore a possibility. However, the Government authorities start to question how appropriate it is for Sophie to remain Charles' ward, considering her unacceptable lack of femininity and social education.

They run away to together France to avoid separation and to seek Sophie's mother, who Sophie believes to be alive despite the slim odds. Charles is less convinced, but he succumbs to Sophie's wishes because he is a nice man who does not believe in writing off the merely improbable. Shut up in her attic hotel bedroom for safety, Sophie begins to explore the rooftops of Paris- to find space to breathe and think freely. Here she meets the remarkable Matteo, a boy who calls the rooftops home and possesses the climbing skills, balance and grace of a cat. Together they scour the rooftops of Paris, looking for the musician mother that Sophie believes is out there somewhere.

I really liked the character of Charles, because he is odd and inexhaustibly kind and patient- but he kind of disappears for the entire middle section of the book. I wonder why such a pleasant character is largely forgotten-the portion that Sophie spends on the roofs of Paris, nocturnal and eating rats, Charles never has so much as a mention. I think he is off trying to obtain a lawyer, I forget. I also liked the idea of rooftop communities, living under the stars and fending for themselves, but I did not find the lengthy descriptions of the acts of climbing and jumping particularly interesting. Nor the rest of the characters I'm afraid. It's not that Sophia and Matteo were bad characters, I just found their artistic musings a little tiresome, and I really didn't understand why Sofia wouldn't take the safest (and less fight-inducing) route to her destinations, namely the pavement.

As the book went on the spacey, synaesthesia inspired 'I'm so random and eclectic' metaphors started to get on my nerves considerably. "It sounds like the music a rainstrom would play", "She is cut from the stuff of the moon", "If love had a smell it would be of hot bread" or two would sound charmingly insightful, but they're thick and fast and I just found the style of prose almost unbearably twee. No doubt others would find it charming or comforting, but I'm afraid this book just isn't for me.

I know this book has been incredibly well received and has gathered many fans and awards, but I'm afraid I am entirely missing the attraction. I was disappointed by the plot, with most of the characters and found the style of prose incredibly off-putting. I'd be immensely surprised to see this win the Carnegie- it feels like it's pitched at a much younger audience and it just doesn't have the grit and the impact of previous winners and the rest of this year's shortlist.

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