Camilla (by Madeleine L'Engle)

It’s many years since I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s best-known children’s classic, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. It was only in the past twenty years or so, however, that I realised how many other books she wrote. Many of them go in and out of print, but I’ve managed to acquire quite a few, mostly second-hand, and have been reading them with interest.

I just finished her teenage novel ‘Camilla’, which I had not previously read. It’s told in the first person from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old teenage girl who lives in New York. Camilla has been quite sheltered from adult problems, but we meet her when she starts to realise that there’s something very suspicious about her mother’s close friendship with a man called Jacques, who she doesn’t particularly like.

Camilla’s best friend Luisa has parents who fight a lot, and she talks about it regularly; but Camilla doesn’t like to talk about her worries, and the way her parents seem to be growing apart. Nor does she like the thought of growing up herself. However, everything changes when Camilla gets to know Frank, Luisa’s older brother, who has returned from a boarding school. Luisa doesn’t want them to be friends, but they find a strong connection, and friendship blossoms.

So essentially it’s a coming-of-age story. It’s about teenage worries, and first love, and the blossoming of a girl into a young woman. It’s also about finding that one’s parents are human and fallible, and about seeing the reality of different kinds of marriage difficulties from a teenage perspective. It feels quite modern in that sense, so it was a surprise to learn that the novel was written as long ago as 1965.

A subplot of the book, which I found thought-provoking and moving, involves a man who had been seriously disabled in a war. We see him struggling to come to terms with it, alongside his dislike of being pitied or treated as too fragile. Some readers might dislike the regular references to God; yet they’re from the point of view of two teenagers trying to decide what they believe, and why, with some unusual theories thrown in. There certainly wasn’t any preaching.

The descriptive and narrative writing is good, as I would expect from this author, and the insights into Camilla’s mind felt realistic on the whole. However I found the dialogue a bit stilted, and the story sometimes a little too slow-moving. I found the ending rather inconclusive too, and a little depressing.

This would probably appeal to young teenage girls  - perhaps older ones too - as well as adults who enjoy a bit of light reading from time to time.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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