A fantastical world exists on the top floor of a seemingly normal apartment building on one of the most colourful and eclectic roads in South Africa. Long street is one of my favourite places in Cape Town and it was easy to imagine this otherworldly fantasy unfolding up the road from the iconic Mama Africa restaurant.
The protagonist, Erin Dearlove, is a dark, moody teenage girl trying desperately to live a life free from her horrific past. She chooses to befriend the nasty, facially deformed Mr. Devilskein, instead of the sweet, sensitive teenage boy Kelvin, who would have been the more obvious choice of friend for a traumatised girl trying to make sense of her new life.
Erin finds comfort in Devilskein’s blatant crassness, but more importantly he holds the keys to new worlds that Erin is aching to discover. Keys start playing a central role in her tumultuous journey of self discovery and as these keys take her to places that are sometimes more calm and sometimes more unstable than her own reality, she eventually finds a new place to belong.
I’m not usually a big fan of the fantasy genre, but I loved this adventure. I found the balance between the real world and the fantasy world quite intriguing and was never quite sure whether the world of Mr. Devilskein existed only in Erin’s unstable psyche or whether it was part of the reality, where Kelvin and Erin’s free spirited aunt Kate lived. Alex Smith also finds rather quirky and sometimes questionably humorous lines for Erin to utter in dealing with her issues, which gives the novel a more adult approach.
I must admit that it was quite fun to imagine a Tim Burton movie coming to life from this fantasy novel and even though the book is technically geared toward the young adult market, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to escape from the real world into a place filled with dark and sometimes humorous adventure, where no rules abound.