A couple years back, David reviewed a book called Undine. I read his review, put the title on my mental “to read” list, and went on my way. Before long, time ate away all details of the review except that title, but I figured it was enough to see me through. So last week, flushed with the victory of my new library card, I typed “Undine” into Ann Arbor District Library’s catalog, and rejoiced when I picked it up.
It was only after dashing through it that I looked at David’s review again and realized that oh, the thing I just read was written nearly 200 years after the thing he reviewed. Not only that, but he included a note that the novella he read is available in full on Google books.
So perhaps it could be regarded as an inconvenient happenstance, but I grieve not. Instead of an Irish fairy story by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, I got an Australian story of magic and the sea by Penni Russon, very clearly inspired by The Tempest, with some intriguing relationships and a dash of localized diction.
Undine’s a sixteen-year-old girl living next door to her best friend Trout (not even his teachers call him Trevor anymore), dealing with a peculiar heavy feeling and the unpleasant weight of Tuesdays (“which, on the whole, were not to be trusted”). Whispers call Undine home, as though she weren’t at home already, and she has a freak storm, a love triangle, and curiously inevitable fights with her mum to deal with as well. Meanwhile, Trout is doing a bit of research on chaos theory, a bit of reading on Shakespeare, and a bit of pondering how discrete he should be with other people’s secrets. My apologies for being vague, but I’m trying not to spoil any of the plot. Here are a few selections from it:
Little scales glittered on her hands from the fish, and her skin felt dry and salty. She lathered and washed, but suspected the scales were as insidious as Jasper’s day-care glitter, which hung around for months, miraculously appearing underneath a fingernail or at the end of an eyelash, no matter how many baths he took, and migrating to Lou and Undine, and various other unlikely places, so that little bits of Christmas would suddenly and surprisingly appear in the corners of things.
“Anyway, he didn’t waffle. He sang.”
Undine groaned. “That’s even worse. Tra la la. And then the great hero Achilles went into an epic sulk and was boring for a very long time. Tra la la. And here’s the name of every ship, all one billion of them, and everyone who was ever on each ship, tra la la.”
“But who…I mean…I already know my father is dead. This is hardly a revelation.”
“Do you know the story of The Tempest?”
“No. We studied Hamlet in English lit.”
Trout rolled his eyes. “You can actually just read Shakespeare, you know. It’s not outlawed outside of school hours.”
It was a fast and evocative read. My chief complaint is that a storyline dependent on the extra-ordinariness of the protagonist may ring a bit hollow to the ordinary reader. There were moments when I thought “Okay, so there’s this power you could wield; what is that to me?” because, of course, I can’t. Thankfully Undine has enough of the ordinary teenage girl about her: navigating relationships with friends and family, some awkwardness, and a quest to understand who she really is when she’s never seen or heard from her father.