The Double Shadow

Publisher: Orion Children's Books

Review

Sally Gardner lives up to her reputation for delivering ambitious and highly imaginative writing for teenagers in this unusual and complex historical novel.

Expelled from her prim 1930s boarding school, Amaryllis Ruben is sent home in disgrace to her father’s manor house. Here, in the grounds, is the Picture Palace – a mirror-tiled folly which hides a sinister installation in its basement: the memory machine. The creation of Amaryllis’s fabulously rich father, Arnold Ruben, the machine was originally intended to save his daughter from horrific memories of her mother’s death and protect her innocence. Inadvertently, however, the machine only served to erase the first years of Amaryllis’s life from her mind completely, leaving her isolated from everyone around her, including her father himself.

Amaryllis struggles to reconcile herself to her absence of early memories, and to seek control of her own future, taking the first tentative steps towards an uneasy friendship with Ezra, the son of her father’s cook. But when film star Vervaine Fox arrives, along with an unpleasant stranger that Amaryllis recognises, things begin to go amiss, and on Amaryllis’s 17th birthday, the manor is devastated by fire – and Amaryllis herself completely disappears.

Locked away in the memory machine, where her father seeks to protect her from the future, years pass for Amaryllis in a tangle of her own and others’ memories. As the world finds itself at war, Ezra, now a young man, works to find a way to rescue her, and the others who have been lost in the memory machine. Can he help them escape from the chaos of their memories - and destroy the machine for good?

Sally Gardner skilfully evokes the tense atmosphere of the 1930s and 1940s in this extraordinary, beautifully characterised and often profoundly chilling novel, which takes a thought-provoking look at the nature of memory, as well as the nature of love.

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