By Isla Morley
Rating: 3 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars
It is hard to evaluate Above by Isla Morley without bringing up the recent bestseller Room. Anyone who read Emma Donaghue's book will see the similarities in my short synopsis. Yet for the first half of Above, it is clear Isla Morley brings alive the drama and the terror of abduction in a much more empathic way than Donoghue. One of the reasons is that Morley writes of the experience in the first person narrative of Blythe rather than Donoghue's very difficult and ultimately unsuccessful first person narration by a 6 year old child. But Morley also does a nice turn in being able to start the narration in the eyes of a teenager yet lets the narration become more mature yet still a little mentally stunted in the teens as one would expect with such a long imprisonment and the lack of social interaction and normal development. It's a very nice trick and keep the reader interested in her plight. Her captor remains an enigma and, purposely I think, wanders precariously between caring and uncaring. He is clearly deranged and cruel but how and why remains to be seen...or in this case, read.
It's a harrowing read. Isla Morley catches the loneliness and hopelessness quite well. It can be a little shocking and is definitely uncomfortable as we read about the young Blythe giving birth and attempting to care for her child with virtually no help from anyone else and no medical aid. One of the most poignant parts of the novel involve her interaction with a child who is not her son. The book becomes a all-in-one sitting affair as it moves from her capture through her years of imprisonment to her escape.
Something happens. Without giving any spoilers, Blythe's escape changes the plot, the themes and pretty much everything including, unfortunately, the tense pace of the telling. Even with a few hints in the first half, the second half feels disjointed like it is a different book. The author stills write well and moves the plot along. But there is no longer the taut suspense or the single-minded intensity of Blythe's Plight. (Sorry. Couldn't resist the word play.) It is hard to say anything else without giving the surprise away but it was a little of a letdown. That is something both Capture and Room have in common; a second half that pales compared to the first half. Morley ends the book with a poignant wrap-up eliciting the heroine's views on the meaning of freedom. It beautifully ends the novel and brings both halves together but it took a long time for that to happen.
Nonetheless it is easy to recommend this book on the first half alone. I reread the ending to the first part and couldn't help thinking what a brilliant ending it would have been if Blythe simply stepped out into the unknown. One of my favorite cult films is John Sayles' Limbo in which a family stranded in the Alaskan wilderness wait for a plane to land knowing it will bring either the means to their escape or certain death. Then it ends abruptly. Sometimes uncertainty is beautiful. Yet even with a not so brilliant second half, Above remains a riveting read favored with a strong female protagonist and plenty of drama.