Friday, 7 December 2018
Review by Lee Wright of "Sunny and the Ghosts" by Alison Moore
It is said that a good writer can turn their hand to any genre, and with her debut children’s book, Alison Moore has put that to the test. There has always been a child-like innocence to many of the protagonists in Moore’s adult novels. This time, however, she has come full-circle, making the protagonist a child in a child’s story.
Sunny and the Ghosts tells the story of eight-year-old Sunny, whose parents buy an antique shop in Devon, and move into the flat above.
Sunny’s father likes old things. He plays old songs when driving around because it “Makes the van feel happier.” His mother likes the butterflies which are preserved in frames, while Sunny helps around the shop, polishing the antique furniture - one of which, a blanket box, has a stowaway ghost inside (the first of six), named Herbert.
Of course, Sunny’s parents don’t believe him, even when the Victorian piano begins playing by itself during the night. We swiftly meet Walter, Violet, the sisters Mary and Elise, and finally Peregrine.
Moore keeps the story ticking over (quite literally in the episode with the antique cuckoo clocks), always conscious of her readership. Along the way, strange things happen, like an invasion of stray cats into the shop, “First it was ghosts,” says Sunny’s friend. “And now it’s cats.”
Sunny also attempts a day trip to the seaside for the dead, all accompanied by the illustrations of Ross Collins, who adds a George Adamson style quality to the story.
And Moore’s literary influences are sprinkled throughout this book. Herbert the ghost’s favourite novel is Wuthering Heights for instance. Macbeth and Hamlet are mentioned, so too A Christmas Carol. And one of Sunny’s new ghostly friends gets trapped in the stationery cupboard while looking for notepaper to fulfil her beyond the grave ambition of writing a book. An encounter which leads to one of the funniest lines:
“Can’t you walk through doors?” asked Sunny.
“No,” said Violet. “Can you?”
A further influence can be found in the creation of the infuriating Mr Ramsbottom (and what seven-year-old wouldn’t titter at that choice of name?) who comes across as a combination of Mr Gruber and Mr Curry from Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear series.
This book also draws on Moore’s last two adult novels. Death and the Seaside and The Missing both explore that place where the real and fictional worlds meet. And since being propelled into the spotlight in 2012 when she made the Man Booker Prize shortlist, alongside well-known heavyweights like Will Self, Deborah Levy and eventual winner Hilary Mantel, Moore has developed an almost cult fan-base that’ll surely buy her work, whether children’s fiction or not.
And even though this is Moore’s first foray into children’s literature, it certainly won’t be her last. A follow-up book, also to be published by Salt Publishing and titled Sunny and the Hotel Splendid is already in the works. A tidy stream of adult novels and children’s books looks set to continue from the prolific former Man Booker Prize short-listed author.
About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.