Read of the Week

The Illustrated Child

Polly Crosby

Jonathan Ball

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

If 2020 was a book, it would definitely be this one. My, my, what a reeling ride this book is.

The Illustrated Child tells the lonely, sad and very dark story of Romilly Kemp.

Romilly lives with her eccentric artist dad in the remote countryside.

Her father has left his job as an art professor and is scrounging a living while Romilly is left mostly to her own devices.

While playing outdoors, she meets an enigmatic dare-devil, Stacey.

Despite Stacey’s odd humours and equally strange behaviour, she and Romilly soon become bosom friends.

Her father eventually hits a goldmine when he makes Romilly the star of his children’s book series.

The first book is an overnight sensation and adult readers soon cotton on that the books contain a treasure hunt.

Romilly’s life then becomes even more cloistered as she is forced to hide from brazen and obsessive treasure hunters, some of whom are convinced that she knows where the prize is.

And if that’s not dark enough, it gets worse. Romilly eventually starts unravelling clues to the sad secrets of her past and present, that can only be described as WTF?

When I first started reading this book, I thought, “Oh dear, this feels like a horror.” I don’t like horrors and hoped the book’s horror hints were just teasing. As the story progressed, at a painfully slow pace, it became clear that the book was not a horror, in the traditional sense, but I’m still hard-placed to be able to tell you what genre it is but perhaps a book doesn’t need a genre.

Everything in this book is dark, the relationships, the places, the events, the secrets, even the lighter moments – birthday parties, childhood romps and museum and circus visits – are tinged with darkness.

There are clear themes in the book, which are best left to the reader to discover for themselves and I suspect that Polly Crosby, when crafting the story, was building a scenario where the reader could feel these themes for themselves, rather than watch it like a viewer from the outside. If my guess is correct, then she has done it exceptionally and disturbingly well.

This book is not for the faint-hearted.