Page 45 Review by Stephen
I am the most enormous fan of Clément Oubrerie and the humanity he brought to AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY and AYA: LOVE IN YOP CITY, those two sparkling comedies of family antics set in Africa you could comfortably log under Behavioural Studies, and the more recent biographical PABLO (Picasso).
I'm also the most enormous fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy which I found commendably iconoclastic.
This is the first third of the first book in which we find young Lyra growing up as the only child within the traditional, rarefied, patriarchal confines of Jordan College, Oxford. A wild spirit who refuses to be contained by class or gender, Lyra's best friend is kitchen boy Roger and they're emphatically not above spending time with the gyptians - nomadic families often persecuted by the authorities who roam Britain's waterways - even though she fears that feisty Ma Costa hates her. Feisty Ma Costa has bigger things on her mind: her son Billy's gone missing, presumed abducted by the Gobblers. No one has seen these so-called Gobblers because no one's seen an abduction, but there are an awful lot of children missing now and someone close to home will be next.
Lord Asriel, Lyra's uncle, visits Jordan College with a discovery from the frozen north: chemically treated, photographic slides which he claims proves the existence of a substance called Dust, news which is greeted as heresy. Then there's another side showing something more spectacular than the Aurora Borealis itself: an ornate classical city with vast spires glowing blue... from another dimension.
Having survived an assassination attempt within the college cloisters, Lord Asriel heads north again and whereupon chic Mrs Coulter inserts herself slyly into Lyra's life. It is agreed by her guardians at Jordan College that Lyra needs female company and should be educated from here on by Mrs Coulter, in London where she is fêted by the very highest echelons of society as a great explorer. Lured by the prospect of adventure and initially enthralled by the novelty of Mrs Coulter's seemingly anti-establishment, educational, inspirational, liberating and empowering ways, Lyra soon wishes she'd listened to her dæmon's instincts for all, as they say, is not what it seems.
The scope of the trilogy is enormous and will embrace many more perspectives than you'll expect. Seeing it from the other side is an extraordinary experience.
The above's but a slither and this is where we hit the problems, I'm afraid, for this loses a lot in translation.
The adaptation is so truncated that huge leaps are made and at times it stops making sense. If I hadn't read the original I would be wondering, for example, why Lyra was in such mental and physical anguish when Mrs Coulter's pet monkey grabs Lyra's pet polecat and Lyra grabs her own throat as if staving off being strangled.
Nowhere has it been explained that these aren't just talking pets: that these are familiars, shape-shifting dæmons, that every human grows up with one and that a strong symbiotic link which must never be severed is shared between human and dæmon. That will prove ever so slightly important later on.
The dialogue was never one of the trilogy's multiple fortes yet that's all that's left: gone is the immersion in Lyra's mind she desperately tries to interpret the world around her; you are no longer sharing her journey but watching it from the outside.
Where it succeeds is in Oubrerie's external and internal architecture evoking an Oxford and London very familiar yet ever so slightly removed. Also, you're left to spot Mrs Coulter's golden monkey making a much earlier appearance than you might at first expect.
And if this adaptation lures in reluctant readers and proves sufficiently intriguing for them to venture towards the original novels, then I think they'll be instant, lifelong converts to prose.