Penguin, £6.99 Order for £6.64 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, By Helen Grant
A tale of disappearing youth
Wednesday 06 May 2009
When you read The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager (as you should), you tend to think of Holden Caulfield: "What a puncturer of phoniness!" And when you read Salinger's novel again as an adult (as you should), you tend to think: "What a naïve and self-regarding little prig!" Such a shift of point-of-view – from youthful identification to adult distance – is crucial to our response to the child narrator of Helen Grant's The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.
A single encounter with this remarkable novel is all that is needed for us to perform this juggling of perspective. Is the folkloric world of 10-year-old Pia's imagination – with its Brothers Grimm-style perceptions – the best way to approach the disappearance of Pia's friend Katharina, rather than more prosaic solutions? We are allowed – invited, even – to change our mind constantly about the protagonist.
Before we address the dark mystery at the heart of the novel, there is another one: who is this book for? With its juvenile heroine, it would appear to be a novel for teenagers. But the publisher, rightly, also has adult readers in its sights: there's a whole stratum of meaning which will only work on that level.
The German setting of Grant's novel belies her Englishness. She begins with a Dickensian spontaneous combustion. In Bad Münstereifel, Pia finds herself known as "the girl whose grandmother exploded". This accident sets the grim (Grimm?) tone of what follows. Pia is mystified by the disappearance of Katharina; she is the last to see her alive.
The disbelief of the small town is palpable. In a place where everyone knows everyone, who could be behind the crime? As Pia investigates, we wonder if we should take on trust her fey solutions.
It would be churlish to hint at whether the answer is in the realms of the uncanny or is more earthbound, but it's a measure of Grant's success that readers will find themselves shuffling through a wide range of possibilities.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure'
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Batman v Superman: Side-kick Robin to be 'woman played by Jena Malone'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments