Skellig by David Almond

A review of the children’s fantasy novel Skellig by David Almond.

Skellig, by David Almond, is a story that I’d long heard of but not really read until I’d reached my adult years. As much as I appreciated reading it, I think it would have had a far greater impact during my younger years.

Most people dismiss children’s novels as simple storytelling, but Skellig, despite being a relatively short book, tells a multifaceted, emotional story.

The novel opens with Michael, the protagonist, having just moved to a decrepit new home. His family is having financial troubles, but this is the least of the family’s worries. Michael’s baby sister has a heart condition, and the weight of this bears heavily on them all, including Michael.

There are moments in my youth that I can pin-point as being perfect times to have read this story. Michael is a child dealing with adult problems, and not really knowing it. He tries to continue his childhood but poverty and ailments overshadow what should be colourful years.

One day, when exploring the worn down garage, Michael comes across what he believes to be a homeless man. The man is irritable and arthritic, demanding aspirin, Chinese food menu order numbers 27 and 53, and brown ale. Michael, being a kind boy, decides he wants to help this stranger; so much so that he tries to find a cure for this arthritis.

It’s this innocence that I loved reading in this book; that subtle sense of helplessness that Michael experiences but does not necessarily realise he is feeling. These are big world problems, and they are delicately handled in this children’s novel.

The stranger in the garage offers a mystery to Michael, who is slowly growing detached from his friends at school, as he stops attending. Instead he meets Mina across the road, who is home-schooled, and who has a different way of looking at the natural world.

There is a lot of angel imagery in Skellig; the titular character himself has wings, appears to Michael during a particularly difficult time in his life, and offers a kind of distraction from the fears of the family. While I am no Christian, I enjoyed the symbolism of this book, and the wonders of childhood it portrays.

As I do not enjoy spoilers, I will simply say that this is award-winning for a reason. It touches a soft spot in my heart, as empathising with the Michael is difficult to resist. That, along with the mystery of the stranger, makes this lovely little book a beautiful story to read.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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