So I said that I wouldn’t write reviews for fiction because it would hinder the experience of getting lost in a book – and going into a book wanting to review it is still something I won’t do. But this one, that I found today in the bargain box due to a slightly damaged spine, drew me in and didn’t let me go until I finished it.
Oz by Bobbie Darbyshire. What a book; what a story. It was a ride from beginning to end and I loved every minute of it. There were characters I loved, some who I hated, and others who switched from one to the other.
Oz tells the story of Mark who, at the beginning of the book, is in a failing marriage and has just lost his mother. Mark is not a good man in some moral senses but neither is he seen to be a bad guy for the choices he has made. He is a character who feels very real and very relatable in ‘the world is working against me and I am a human prone to mistakes’ kind of way.
The story is split between Mark’s story and that of a series of flashbacks as the author slowly pieces together the story of Oz and what he meant to Nancy, Mark’s mother, as well as Mark himself.
But the star of the show, in my eyes at least, is Mark’s seven year old daughter, Matilda (nicknamed Matty) who shows herself to be aware, naive and yet wonderfully brave, inquisitive, and a true help to her father who she joins on this hunt for Oz. I truly loved the way that Matilda is shown throughout the story, which is amplified by the tired adoration that Mark has for her.
There are also substories within the main plot which truly add depth to Mark’s character, as well as that of his wife and some of the other people in his life. His role as a teacher of English as a second language is something that I truly admire as it shows his strengths in his fight to teach adults, some resistant and others desperate, what they need to know to survive in England.
It also shows that he doesn’t think of this as a positive mark on his personality as, when he is within this role, Bobbie has him call himself ‘The Teacher Guy’, showing that he thinks of this role as a disconnect from his actual personality. This is shown with a couple of other roles within the story and it is an interesting way, from a literary critique point of view, to construct multiple facets to a character’s personality and a way to truly highlight their sparks and flaws.
The flashbacks to the past show his mother as an also imperfect person but this imperfection is barely acknowledged as a stain on the characters (not from a societal point of view but from the point of view of me as a reader) due to their plights feeling so real and their choices seeming so painful. You understand that what they have done may not have been right or good, but they did what they felt like they had to and that’s what humans end up doing a lot of the time.
This story shows that family and morals are not as clean cut as people expect it to be. Real life is messy, with cold marriages, affairs, aware but unaware children, and hidden letters. But, in this case, the answers can sometimes be found on the other side of the world – hand in hand with a boisterous seven year old.