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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Tell Me What You See
by Zoran Drvenkar
Age Range: 14+
Alissaís life is turned upside down on a visit to her fatherís grave when she falls into an open crypt and finds the coffin of a child with a strange plant growing through the lid. Now Alissa can see angels, is stalked by her ex-boyfriend and finds a pet kitten that no one else can see. Everyone but her best friend Evelin thinks sheís gone mad, but Alissa knows she must find out the truth. The story reaches a dramatic climax as the girls run the risk of paying a high price for what Alissa can see.
Zoran Drvenkar captures a lot of adolescent feelings in this novel. The parts of the novel written in character have a really teenage voice to them and Chantal Wright keeps this quality in her translation. Drvenkar writes a slow build-up, allowing tantalizingly few details about what has happened to Alissa and moves the narration between characters, a really clever way of slowly showing us the whole picture. Shame the explanation as to whatís actually been happening turns out to be a really weak, badly explained idea that unravels near the end.
The clever style and threading together of the story do not disguise some of the more disturbing elements of the plot. The preoccupation with death and the stalking of Alissa make for very dark subject matter, and the book seemed depressing and overly concerned with melancholy. No one is happy in this story- it seems like they arenít allowed to be. In particular, you canít help feeling sorry for Evelin, who is actually cheerful but soon gets smothered in Alissaís angst. Alissa herself is wearing; the plucky heroine causes a lot of trouble and quickly irritates in the way Drvenkar has gone to great efforts to make her a martyr. Other than a fascination with doom and gloom, Drvenkar seems to almost over-write to have issues interesting to teenagers. Simonís dabbling with drugs and Evelinís lesbianism are not at all necessary but add to the general idea of this book dealing with anything controversial.
Ultimately itís edgy, dark and adolescent. Tell Me What You See is aimed at teenagers and is well-styled in this respect, but it might fall flat and seem a little too calculated for some. The plot is a page-turner, but each turn seems to render it more depressing and the end is disappointing.
Abby Phillips (2010)