Review of Abyssinia
Ursula Dubosarsky has written a lot of junior fiction, often about children that disappear. Her work is characteristically dark, driven by enigma and mystery, and features concepts, references and vocabulary that challenge most younger readers.
Abyssinia is set in 1891. Mary and Grace are the only children of a wealthy family, living in rural Australia. 'Part Two' details life on the farm and the events leading up to Mary's death, including the odd relationship between the enigmatic governess Miss Lothian and the mysterious Dr Fleet. 'Part One' is a rendering of Grace's psychological state after her sister's death, laden with references from classical Western mythology. As Grace and her parents try to cope with Mary's death, Grace inhabits an imagined world, peopled with the characters of her life, distorted, rearranged, and behaving in bizarre ways.
Dubosarsky has written an intriguing work, exploring childhood play, the links between lived events and the world of the mind and the distortions of grief. This is a challenging book that benefits significantly from several careful readings. Is it a success? You'd need to track down a 15 year old with a command of Greek and Roman mythology to give you the final verdict.
Published in The Big Issue on June 1, 2003.