Friday, 7 May 2010

The Turning by Helen Ellis

The Turning is the tale of Mary Richards, a girl adopted from foster care into a plush life in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. When strange events begin taking place, Mary struggles to comprehend the idea that she is one of those who Turn – from human to cat. For a girl who mostly worries about trying to win arguments with her foster sister Octavia and getting Nick – her ultimate crush – to notice her, Mary is terrified as she tries to come to terms with her new life. When she is offered a way to recover her old life, Mary has a choice to make...

There was very little that I enjoyed about this book – except maybe the length. At just over 200 pages, it was at least quick to read!

The novel is told from a first person perspective, but Mary’s voice is shaky and never comes across as particularly well developed. In fact, all of the characters are either under-developed, to the point that you don’t know or care anything about them, or they are focused on lovingly, even when less than crucial to the main thrust of the plot (such as Ling Ling Lebowitz).

Considering this is an “origin” novel, the setting up of the mythology of the turn-cats came extremely late in the book, and had very few details. It seemed almost as though Helen Ellis wanted humans to turn into cats – thought it would be cute if they turned into kittens on their first few turns – and didn’t have any idea how to back this up. So we end up with a half-hearted tale about turn-cats versus pure-cats and Strays versus Doms (‘domestics’) that is introduced towards the tail end of the book, and is never really expanded beyond the fact they they exist.

I took a dislike to a great deal of the phrases that Ellis threw into her novel, seemingly on a whim, since the language never really settled into a cohesive whole. Here are some of my least favourite comments and passages:

“I pee without putting toilet paper on top of the water to soundproof the stream. I flush instead of letting the yellow mellow until it’s time to rise and shine.”

“A woman’s right to choose is wiggida wiggida wiggida whack Arguing is a game to her.”

“The lid is up. He adapts for a crash landing and splays his four legs. His paws hit the porcelain doughnut.”

“The twins’ porcelain-doll complexions burn the palest of pinks.”

Now, on the face of it, that last quote doesn’t seem so bad, but I’ve never seen anything burn the palest of pinks! Ellis’ word choices are sometimes extremely suspect. The first quote just grossed me out utterly!

I found the pacing of the novel unbearably slow, considering the fact that these are supposed to be exciting events overtaking Mary Richards (oh, and during the tale Octavia – Mary’s sister – insists on calling her by all sorts of other girl names, which really doesn’t help fix the characters in your head at all). We crawled at snail’s pace to the point where Mary Turns, then we crawl a little further to a lacklustre end.

This is the opening to a series. You can bet good money that I will not be picking up any of the others to be published. I would encourage you to avoid at all costs.

Review also posted to FanLit


  1. Good lord that is AWFUL.

    Perhaps it would make a good gag gift to someone you really hate...;-)

  2. Isn't it? Those little extracts were just the tip of a VERY LARGE amount that I found scattered throughout the book... Dire stuff.

  3. Well that's definitely one to avoid then!
    Can't tolerate slow anything. :-)