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The Independent Culture
2 The Great Ideas by Suzanne Cleminshaw, Fourth Estate pounds 14.99. Haddie is 13, bright, inquisitive, justly unnerved at the fact that she has the same name as her sister, dead before she was born. Haddie the first fell out of a window in the next-door house, smashing her head on the concrete. Haddie the second worries obsessively at the incident which her best friend, 16-year-old Louis Lewis, might have witnessed as a toddler.

Haddie pursues a two-fold quest for knowledge as she works her way slowly through the "A" section of the encyclopaedia, and tries to find out what happened at the Monroes' house 13 years previously. With its interleaved mini-essays on Augustine, Apollo and Aeschylus, The Great Ideas resembles a cross between Sophie's World and To Kill a Mockingbird: for Scout, read Haddie; for Calpurnia, read Leonora the superstitious cleaning lady; for Scout and Jem's tormenting of the pitiful Boo Radley, see Louis and Haddie's persecution of the Monroe house's new occupant, the mysterious Bachelor.

Haddie's arch investigations into world culture are most convincing when they are banal. ("I bet if Odysseus was around today he would drive a Cadillac. He'd probably be a cowboy, yeehawing his way down the long highways.") Who could believe in a 13-year-old narrator who talks like this: "When you look at things, you see their form on the outside, but if you strike them, you hear the sound-shadows of their insides"? The Great Ideas is rich, peculiar, more literary than lived, and the mystery plot never amounts to much. But Louis Lewis is a fine confection, a disturbed and brilliant boy with a wit as fierce as his sexuality.