This is part of a review series in which I take a look at some of the other books that were picked up by Harper Voyager at the same time as mine. For all the usual disclaimers, refer back to the first episode in the series :-)
The main thing that struck me when reading Supervision was the poetry of it.
Which isn't to say that it's full of verse or, you know, written in rhyming couplets or anything like that. But it's one of those books that gives the impression, when you read it, of being as much a piece of art as it is a story. Every word is chosen with care; Alison Stine is clearly an author with a poet's soul and an eye for beauty in the strangest of places. And as a result, Supervision has a feel and an atmosphere all of its own.
Of course, a book that aims to be art as well as entertainment has a delicate balance to achieve. Go too far, and you end up with something that's beautiful and clever but ultimately not very enjoyable. Don't go far enough, and the whole will fall flat because you didn't have the courage of your convictions. Happily, Stine nails this tricky balance with aplomb, delivering a book that is both stylish and highly readable.
The story itself is quite a simple one, at its core: Esme gets into trouble living with her sister and is sent to stay with a grandmother who doesn't seem to know she's there, and she soon finds out that no-one else can see her either … except the dead. Given the novel's focus on ghosts, you might leap to an obvious conclusion; at the risk of spoilers, I won't say any more on that subject, except to observe that one of the things I enjoyed about the book was the way that Stine never quite goes where you think she's going. Supervision kept me ever so slightly on the wrong foot throughout, which only added to its overall effect.
Esme herself is a sympathetic central character, but it was the cast of ghosts who I enjoyed the most: Tom, Clara, Martha and (most of all) Mr Black. They follow some familiar rules - they have unfinished business, they can't have a lasting effect on the world, they are drawn back to the place of their death - but as always, the author gives these ideas a quirky twist to make them her own. The ghosts' need to find peace is what gives the book its heart. But it's only one heart of many.
Because the thing is, Supervision struck me as a book that's about a lot more than its narrative would ostensibly suggest. It's a ghost story, yes. And a love story, yes. It has the surreal, rather offbeat quality of a dream. But it's also about alienation. About history. About grief and letting go. About the importance of family. About fitting in versus being different. It's a subtle piece of work that weaves these strands around you like a gossamer web, pretending to be simple but actually turning out to be far more complex than you realised. And when I'd finished it, I wanted to go back and read it again, to see if I'd catch those strands working second time around, or if they'd creep up on me once again.
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