I don’t know if they still show them, but there used to be a practice of filling in an unexpected gap between programmes on the telly by playing a short cartoon. They always seemed a little surreal. Well, this book is a little like those cartoons.
From the first page, you know that things are going to be unusual. You are introduced to the Professor, a mysterious character whose grassy hair is not the most peculiar thing about him. Soon after, you learn that in this world, almost everyone can fly… somewhat. And you learn also about a special girl known as “The Wall”. And so you enter into a world both familiar (the more so, I assume, if you live in New York) and strange, as people fly, human-rats emerge from the sewers, and an orphanage of children is given names which reflect their characters as their memories have been removed by a set of toy monkeys.
At this story’s heart, there is a conventional but pleasing tale of a boy(Bug) and a girl(Gurl), both about 12 years old. Each has a special talent, and they are brought together by a cat who uses a flush toilet rather than cat litter. Each mistrustful at first, they gradually grow closer to the point where, when Bug’s past is revealed, he chooses loyalty to Gurl over the original demands of his mission. The other characters are largely stereotypes, which is in keeping with the story’s slightly surreal milieu. You know the gangsters are on the wrong side because they have gangster-y names and refer to punitive dismemberments; you know the Matron’s rotten because she spends all the orphanage money on expensive facelifts; you know the Professor’s an oddball because he has grass instead of hair, wears a woman’s housecoat, and is surrounded by cats.
There is a slightly questionable aspect to some of the actions of Gurl and Bug. In both cases, they are in difficult circumstances and have few options. Gurl is forced into stealing for the Matron, who has discovered her invisibility. Interestingly, it is the Gangster who later points out that Gurl did have a choice in the matter, although it would have meant sacrificing something precious to her. Likewise, the children live freely in a hotel, moving from empty room to empty room, using Gurl’s invisibility and Bug’s lock-picking skills to get by. When matters are all being resolved, Gurl does admit to her new-found parents all the things they have done. It is a slight shame that there is no mention of restitution on her part, or by her parents (who are very rich) on her behalf. Overall, The Wall and the Wing produces an interesting and entertaining mixture of the real and identifiable and the surreal and imaginative. It manages to poke a little fun at our modern internet-ridden life and at the conventions of fiction involving gangster hideouts and grasping matrons. At its heart, though – and it does have a heart – is the story of a pair of youngsters who are trying to overcome their defects and find their place in the world.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He also is the editor of the Good-to-Read website.