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The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick review – ambitious and frustrating

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Spirals are everywhere in the stories and poem that make up this intriguing book, now on the Costa shortlist. But what does it all mean?

Pick up Marcus Sedgwick’s new book, shortlisted for the Costa children’s award, and you’ll immediately be impressed – this hefty volume is beautifully and expensively produced, adorned with spirals inside and out. Inside, an introductory note advises you that the four parts of the book, the “four quarters to this story” – three stories and a poem, each about 100 pages long – can be read in any order “and the story will work”.

The first quarter, the poem, written in blunt free verse, describes a girl living with her tribe in a forest beside a great lake. Some hunt; others are chosen to paint magical motifs inside nearby caves, bringing good luck. When they are attacked, the girl, unable to warn her tribe, intuits the possibility of writing: “If there was a way, / she thinks. / To make a mark in the sand. / And that mark to be known by all. / And that mark to have a meaning. / A meaning known to all. / There could be different marks / for different meanings. / Then there could be a mark to mean go / and one to mean follow.”

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