I picked up the audiobook of Maggot Moon from my library recently. I was looking for an audiobook for a road trip that Master Wicker wouldn't hate. I'd never heard of Maggot Moon particularly, although I've had a growing awareness of Sally Gardner for some time, never really hearing about her properly, but aware of her oeuvre, that it's very well regarded and that she covers a rather vast subject range.
So I didn't know what was coming when I popped the first disc of Maggot Moon into my car CD player. Oh. My God. It's so good. It's extraordinary actually. The young narrator Robert Madge did an particularly amazing job. He absolutely inhabits Standish Treadwell.
Before Hector came to this school, I hated it. I believed it was invented just so the bullies, with brains the size of dried-up dog turds, could beat the shit out of kids like me. A kid with different-coloured eyes: one blue eye, one brown, and the dubious honour of being the only boy in the whole of his class of fifteen-year-old who couldn't spell, couldn't write.
It is 1956 and Standish Treadwell is 15, born into an impoverished and repressed neighbourhood in Sector 7 of the Motherland. Standish lives with his grandfather as his parents have left a few years before. People disappear frequently in Sector 7 and all evidence of their life disappears along with them. Standish and his grandfather have a marginal existence with little food, and many rats in the cellar.
I tell you this for a bagful of humbugs, it was eerily deserted under this houses. All we could hear down there was the conversation of rats. A very stubborn thing is your common brown rat. I often wondered how it was the rats became fat when we were so very lean.
The Motherland is a brutal regime and is out to impress the Evil Empires of the world by sending a manned rocket to the moon. It's hard to say much more about the story without spoilers. While I'm not a fan of allegory on the whole, and although Maggot Moon is clearly allegorical it's brilliance is such that I plainly saw that and just didn't care.
Maggot Moon is not a gentle story by any means, it is actually quite violent, quite shockingly violent. But it is unbelievably gripping. I paid attention intently. And then I listened to it again. And again. Even now after I've finished listening to the book five or six times, I can't get it out of my head.
So much so that I googled about it quite a bit.
Sally Gardner is dyslexic and she didn't read til she was 14 because of it. D'oh of course Standish is dyslexic. Rather embarrassingly I didn't form that word in my mind while listening to Maggot Moon, I just accepted Standish and didn't label him. But it's pretty obvious now. Sally Gardner has become a dyslexia campaigner and spokesperson. Jackie French is one of my favourite writers, and is also dyslexic. I'm not sure whether that has any significance or not.
I also borrowed the physical book from my library because I was intrigued as to how it would look. It's fabulous. Illustrated with rats and maggots that make a great animation as you flip through (in parts). Told in 100 short chapters it would be a lightning fast read. I think I'll read the book sometime. Maybe in a few months.
And Master Wicker? He thought it didn't suck. High praise indeed.
I will be reading Sally Gardner's work again sometime very soon. I'm totally intrigued. What a talent she has. What an imagination.