Madilla is exquisitely written stories of the self discovery of one girl from a small Himalayan village, whose natural ability on the piano offer her escape from the struggles that surround her, as well as the opportunity to learn the truth about her world.
Before I continue with the, as always, spoiler free review – I would like to take this time to thank Ian Boyd for reaching out to me and giving me the chance to read and review Madilla. This opportunity has in no way influenced my review.
As mentioned, Madilla’s natural ability on the piano is a focal point of the novel, it allows her to connect with not just herself, but the history of her culture and the animals around her. The way Boyd describes the music she plays were some of my favouite parts of the novel and unlike anything I have ever read before. This young child whose life is dictated by archaic rules and social structure is free to soar the mountain skies with Pan and the other sparrows she shares a connection with, seeing sights she could not imagine, seeing history unfold before her eyes. My favourite example of this is as follows:
I played the same pattern again, Pan preening fussily beneath her wings as my sounds became richer and the sun emerged from a passing cloud. But something did not seem as it should. I sensed danger creeping through the undergrowth. Low notes began to pulse from an uncertainty in my spirit that sent a shiver down my spine. A quiet flurry of middle notes captured millions of leaves moving gently in the wind and animals scurrying all around me. The deep, constant rhythm simmered to a sinister uneasy pulse as I sensed a snow leopard approaching the cherry tree. The flurries became disjointed and louder as my tension grew, willing Pan to fly away.
The plot, while slow to begin with, really gains pace after the middle of the book – this I think helps the reader feel the fast pace of events as Madilla would, allowing us to appreciate how scared and confused she must feel. That being said, the end did seem a bit rushed.
Even with the looming presence of her drunk, abusive uncle and the military the scenes of village life are beautifully described – but the hardships are not glossed over in anyway. It acts more for contrast, the village and the city, the repression of the culture and the freedom she has when playing, the happiness she feels at times and the fear of her uncle and the Ram soldiers. While I am on the subject of her uncle, as I mentioned before – he is drunk and abusive towards Madilla’s mother and Madilla, so if you have a nervous disposition or would be effected by reading about sexual violence – please approach with caution.
I really enjoyed reading Madilla, it was a nice to change it up from my usual genre – that being said there are some fantasy elements to the story. Madilla is a beautiful read and a fantastic achievement as a debut novel for Ian Boyd. I look forward to what else he has in store.
Great quotes and passages from Madilla:
I was always glad I did not have the soul of a chicken.
…staring through the rising mist of her breath to silhouettes of thatched roofs against the near darkness of night
…one simple chord from my right hand was enough to fill the tent with the sounds of spring. A delicate string of high notes fluttered like Pan’s wings…
Her eyes smiled whenever the men were looking, but turned to stone the second they looked away.
Such long-held secrets are never uncovered without opening old wounds.
My visions had grown from a sparrow’s nest of ideas, strands from songs and stories woven together inside the boundless imagination of a child.