Book Review: Skallagrig by William Horwood. A story which will stay with you forever.

skallagrigAlthough I review books fairly regularly, and post them on Amazon or Goodreads, I don’t often post them here, on aliisaacstoryteller. The reason for that is that there are some fantastic book review blogs out there who do it far better than I can. However, Skallagrig is unlike any other book I have ever experienced, and I find my thoughts returning to it often, so I would like to share it with you.

NOTE: This book is no longer in print, or available in e-book format, a great shame in my opinion. I obtained my paperback copy second-hand through Amazon.

An Amazing, Emotional Read. May 14, 2013
By Ali Isaac
This book was recommended to me by a friend, as it deals with the subject of disability. This is close to my heart, as I have a daughter with a rare syndrome. I have to say, this story quite blew me away, for many, many reasons.

Although the book was written and published in the 80’s, I was surprised to find that it is not available as an E-book on Kindle. William, if you ever see this, I hope you will consider doing just that. However, I was lucky enough to get a paperback copy second-hand.

Even before you begin to read, there is something haunting, and powerful about the title, and the front cover image.This is not an easy read. The story is, at times, rambling. It is often brutal, and bleak in its descriptions of life for the disabled in years gone by, to the point where it is quite hard to take.

Part One starts in 1927 with the heart-rending story of a young boy named Arthur, who is torn from his family and institutionalised, because he has cerebral palsy. There he is mistreated and abused, but the belief that the Skallagrigg will one day come and save him sustains him as the years pass by. We then move to 1982, when we meet the main protagonist of the story, Esther, who also has CP. Understanding has come a long way since 1927, and Esther’s circumstances are very different to Arthur’s, although difficult in their own way. Finally, the narrator introduces himself, a systems analyst and computer programmer from Birmingham. How are they all linked, we begin to wonder.

Well, it’s complicated. The narrator comes across a computer game called Skallagrigg. This floors him; Skallagrigg is a word he has heard before. It is the only piece of information his father passed onto him about his ancestors. Desperate to find out what it means, he becomes obsessed with the game, and so he begins his quest to find the Skallagrigg.

Part Two is where the story really began for me, with the intriguing story of Esther’s life. The depiction of a vast intelligence locked within a body which cannot be controlled to speak or walk is touching, and compelling. Regardless of her disability, Esther manages to make friends, go to school, and excel at her studies. She is not always likeable, but she is real, convincing in her flaws, and in her incredible strength and determination. With the introduction of computer technology, Esther suddenly finds she has a voice at last, and now her spirit is soaring free, her mind unencumbered by the limits of her unwieldy body.

In Esther’s world, the legends of the Skallagrigg are never far away. Always, they centre around a boy named Arthur. As she collects these stories, she comes to realise that they must be true, and sets out to find him, for where he is, so must the Skallagrigg surely be.

Does she find Arthur? Yes, she does. Is the meaning of the Skallagrigg revealed? Yes, it is. Do we discover the connection between these three characters? Yes, we do, yet the story does not have the satisfactory, cosy, comfortable conclusion one might expect.

I will tell you no more about the plot; this is a book you need to read for yourself. It will open your eyes to the plight those with special needs face every day, and the difficulties their families must overcome. It explores relationships, not just among the disabled. It examines people’s attitudes towards special needs through the years. It debates society’s responsibilities to care for these people, and protect their rights. It’s a fictional story, but based on fact, and the writer’s own experiences with his daughter, Rachel.

There were times when I wept as I read; for all those children like Arthur who were so cruelly abused and shunned by the rest of humankind; but also because I had been through so many similar situations with my daughter, as Esther did with her father. I felt I learned a lot; this is not mindless entertainment, it is a story you have to work at, and all the more rewarding for it.

It is a story which I know will stay with me for a very long time.

You can get your copy here.

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