Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

Five truly wonderful elements of Little Gods by Jenny Ackland (a book about a girl called Olive; her complex family; dams, a country town and silos; and a bird called Grace).

01. The character of Olive is superb. She’s gutsy, clever, impulsive, bossy, curious, and cares about some things but definitely not others. In terms of child narrators, she’s made my top five.

Olive went through her wishes: to get a pony two hands taller than Snooky’s friend Megan’s, to find a baby owl and to be magic.

She, Olive Lovelock, child sleuth, smart kid, adventuress, reader. Imaginer, cryptologist and conqueror of high places. Keeper of bones, rocks and feathers. She would show everybody how clever she was and they’d say to each other: ‘Here comes Olive Lovelock. Did you know she solved the case of her sister who drowned? She’s going to meet the Queen.’

02. There are small details and scenes that are so familiar, they could have been taken directly from my childhood – spoke clackers on bikes; ‘driving’ the car while sitting on an adult’s lap; the verandah plays; curried sausages and jaffles; a roster for who gets the wishbone – this is the kind of writing that tugs at something deep.

I could have picked from dozens of passages, but this one was all of my summers at McCrae –

Mosquito coils burned along the wide window ledges as Archie went around touching the ash even though his mother told him not to.

03. Ackland’s sensitive handling of the complex character of Thistle. I’m loath to reveal too much about Thistle’s story line but these three quotes sum her up beautifully –

Thistle quickly started putting pieces together to make a section of the bottom frame, the foundation upon which all else would be built. She was a fundamentalist when it came to her religion and her jigsaws.

(to Olive) “People don’t like it when a girl is strong and while we think it’s men who try to control us it’s the mothers mostly.”

They thought she was exzentrisch at best, übergeschnappt at worst but she wasn’t, she wasn’t. She was from a family of liars and secret makers but she had been a truth-teller and she should have used a real dagger not just tried to speak one.

04. The family dynamic (the Lovelocks are a complex bunch, bound by history, and the closeness that comes from two sisters marrying two brothers).

There was quiet, a hushed sense of almost-giggling as if the sisters might in a bizarre and spontaneous moment hang off each other’s necks to laugh about something from their childhood. It had never happened but there was the feeling that it could.

How often adults were intruders, moving across rooms from left to right, distant in the background, or if not in motion, fixed in place, sitting in a particular chair, perhaps, or the front seat of the car. They stood on the street, at the shops, called you for dinner from doorways, interrupted the play and halted the swell and flow of the day’s business that for children happened under beds, astride bikes, on roofs and roads, in parks, up trees. The high places. The closed spaces.

05. Grief, which in this story begins as something almost intangible, but ends as something all-consuming.

She lay on the ground and wondered if a person could just die because of nothing.

…what was most interesting was learning that the world could be hard for adults. They could have bad things happen to them too.

4/5 A book with heart and guts. I loved every single word.

Olive remembered being a girl who was excited about sparklers. She remembered being a girl who didn’t care what people thought. Someone who just wanted to practice cartwheels outside on the lawn. A girl who, when she came across a bowl of Cheezels, would stand there and eat with commitment until they were gone.

25 responses

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  2. Lovely, heartfelt review! I’m not sure I could ever have eaten a bowl of Cheezels which look like what we call Hula Hoops in the UK but I like the idea of a girl eating with committment.

  3. Great review, Kate. I loved this one too. And it’s quite reminiscent of my childhood as well… the clackers in the bike… the trips to the swimming pool… the devouring of weird factual books etc

    • I guess the danger is that they’re too much of one thing (cute/ innocent/ brave etc) and as a result lack authenticity. Olive is far from the perfect child and it’s in her bossing her friend and cousins around, and in her jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, that you enjoy her character. Additionally, this story does not have a neat ending which I think is important because in real life, major family issues aren’t resolved neatly with no longer term reverberations.

  4. This is on my Women’s Prize list, which is quite daunting but will take me outside my comfort zone. This sounds so good, I don’t think I have seen it reviewed before. Definitely one I think I might like.

  5. I wasn’t sure about this one. I’ve picked it up and put it down a few times now, but you’ve certainly piqued my interest now. Cheezels were our long car trip treats – I associate them with settling an upset tummy – which meant they became my hangover cure during my twenties 😀

  6. Yes, I’ll add to the crowd. A good read. Thistle was a great character. Thanks for reminding me as it’s some time since I read it.

    BTW I never did like Cheezels though. I love plain old potato chips/crisps!

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