Wednesday, July 7

Fade - Robert Cormier

The only mystery Paul Moreaux knows of is a family photograph, taken just before the first World War, before the family moved from Quebec to New England - where his uncle Adelard ought to be was an empty space, which Paul found thought-provoking even if his father thinks Adelard just ducked. Other than that his life seems ordinary enough - he shares a bed with his older and younger brothers and the room with his sisters, his father works at the nearby comb factory and smells always of the flexible but combustible celluloid they use, and his greatest interests are performing and spending time with his Pete.
That is until the summer Paul turns thirteen, when everything starts to change. It begins with the return of his aunt Rosanna - his beautiful, flirtatious, mysterious aunt, who has an intoxicating effect of the young boy. It continues with union activity and industrial action at the Monument Comb Shop. But Paul's life really changes when his uncle Adelard returns home, and explains that Paul has inherited the Moreaux family trait, passed from uncle to nephew as far back as they can trace, and kept secret from everyone else - Paul has the ability to become invisible at will, to fade. And though this seemed at first a gift, as Paul begins to see, hear and learn things better kept secret, he wonders if the fade is instead a curse.
I really liked, in particular, the idea that something which seems so perfect as controllable invisibility being a bad thing. It all sounds like a great premise, though the concept reminded me more of a William Sleator novel than something by Cormier (better known for edgy but realistic young adult novels). Unfortunately I just couldn't engage with the narrative or Paul. I suspect, as the opening section is titled 'Paul,' that there's at least one other voice in the novel, but I stopped reading just after Adelard reveals the fade, so I can't say for certain. I don't know if this was because the writing seemed laboured, if it's because there's a strong hindsight aspect ("I didn't know it at the time but that was the first time I faded"), if it's because it took about a third of the novel before Paul learned of his ability... whatever it was, for the second time already this week I just couldn't be bothered reading on. And that's a shame given the prestige of the author (whose work I very much enjoyed when I was at school) and the promise of the premise. - Alex

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