Too many changes?, Flora Fan
1984 (republished 2017)
I have to be honest here – I read this book because I saw the film trailer. The trailer was very intriguing. First, Carmody Braque (the villain of The Changeover) is played by none other than the actor Peter Pettigrew. Even in 2 minutes, it was surreal to see a Harry Potter actor in a New Zealand film. And that’s it – very few books by New Zealand authors have been made into films. Judging by how well-known The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are, The Changeover may very well be the next big thing. So, of course, I had to read the book.
First point to note though, is that the novel is quite a bit different from the film trailer. Sure, the characters have the same names and the setting is a classic small town, but things happen in the trailer that simply are not there in its book equivalent. For one, Laura’s classmates are completely unaware of the supernatural “otherness” that some residents of Gardendale have. This means that no one even talks about witchcraft, much less plans to throw an accused witch on a bonfire. Secondly – a recurring point in films that always spurs a flicker of annoyance – Sorensen’s eyes on screen are brown, not the “tricky, looking-glass” silver eyes that Laura is fascinated with. I mean, seeing how immensely this small detail contributes to the appearance we build in our minds of the characters whilst reading, surely this can be tweaked a little? Like, by contacts? Anyway…
Though there are differences between the film and the novel, I don’t believe any value is detracted from either form of the story. Both have their own purposes. Whereas the film, judging from the trailer, is clearly aimed at a teenage audience excited by good looking actors and actresses involved in a supernatural plot, the novel is much more delicate. The relationships within Laura’s family are gently pried apart and offer not only a relatable, but a quietly humorous look into suburban New Zealand life. For instance, in the beginning of the book, Laura’s mum Kate spends 3 pages looking for her shoe. And that’s not all. Three-year-old Jacko, in the midst of this “morning panic”, adorably proceeds to update Laura with Kate’s progress: “‘Lost shoe!’ announced Jacko… ‘Still no shoe!’” Finally, when Kate eventually finds her shoe on the mantelpiece, she “forgave it at once”. Mahy’s novel is full of this quirkiness – sometimes, as in the case of the missing shoe, she is surprisingly astute in her language; at other times, she is downright creepy.
This is where whom-Laura-never-talked-to-before-but-knows-is-certainly-a-witch Sorensen Carlisle, also known as Sorry (I laughed when I read this, sorry) comes in. As he is a 7th form prefect, I found his blatantly sexual interest in Laura, a maturing 14-year-old, just slightly uncomfortable. And, despite being recently adopted back into his family, he doesn’t hesitate at all to put his thoughts out in the open in front of them. About Laura, he says to his mother: “she’s got very sexy legs but I’m not allowed to tell her about them at school.” In fact, I pretty much applied Twilight to the reading of Sorry Carlisle and his family.
With a love story that blurs the lines between what is attractive and what is unsettling, The Changeover is certainly different to typical YA novels in that respect. From the first time Laura saw Sorensen, a silent conversation was initiated through intense looks and reserved smiles. In much the same way, the reader is almost left out of the loop of understanding as their relationship develops.
Perhaps it’s the time period in which the story is set, or the otherworldly element to the characters, but Mahy’s novel is certainly original. However, at the end of the day, it is not so much what happens and to whom, but the extraordinary language that holds the story together. I would recommend The Changeover if only so you can read descriptions like this: “On seeing Laura [Jacko] did not so much run as bounce across the lawn in little jumps as if he were made of rubber and someone had cheerfully tossed him in her direction… sometimes it seemed to her that Jacko was not her brother but in some way, her own baby, a baby she would have one day, both born and unborn at the same time.”
Flora Fan is 17 years old.