I’ve just read Candy Gourlay’s debut novel Tall Story and its brilliant! No wonder it has been nominated for so many awards.
16-year old Bernardo has lived all his life with his auntie and uncle in the Philippines but finally the authorities have allowed him to come to London to be with his mum, step-father and half-sister Andi. Andi is excited – she’s fed up of being an only child – and maybe Bernardo will play basketball with her? She’s heard he’s tall and that a good start for a basketball player, right?
What Auntie hasn’t told them is how tall. When Bernardo emerges from the arrivals gate at Heathrow the family – and everyone else – gasp. Bernardo is 8 foot in his stockinged feet.
Although Bernardo’s extreme height is the theme around which Tall Story revolves, it isn’t simply for the obvious reasons of how he copes with standing out in a crowd, in a new school, in another country. Although those issues are dealt with there is an added burden Bernardo carries. In his village he was seen as a hero, a talisman; the reincarnation of the giant Bernardo Carpio, an Atlas-like figure who saves them from the terrible and frequent earthquakes. Now he has come to England, what will happen to his beloved village? And his friends and family there? For they are in danger – he can feel it in his ever-creaking bones and through the terrible flashbacks that bring on those excrutiating headaches he keeps getting…
Tall Story is Andi’s story, too. How does a 12-year old girl cope with a new brother, especially when she seems to be the one who keeps getting ‘lumbered’ with looking after him?
Told as a dual-narrative, Tall Story engages from start to finish. Gourlay gives us contrasting cultures, magic realism, humour and pathos all in one go. ‘A bittersweet tale’ it said on the back of the book. The word ‘bittersweet’ made me worry – there’s an impending sense of doom and I cared so deeply for Bernardo I would have been so upset if the book had ended in the way it seemed to be heading. Fear not! The ending is like the rest of the book – uplifting and life-affirming.
Age: 9 and over.