Friday, October 29, 2010

Let’s Kill Uncle – Rohan O’Grady

I love the title of this book so much that even without the Bloomsbury Group endorsement I would probably have felt the need to buy it had I come across it unawares, which for once in a way I might have done as it’s the only one of this summer’s set of Bloomsbury Group titles I’ve seen for sale on the high street. As it was it headed up an amazon order, which given that it’s also the only Bloomsbury Group title so far which was a totally unknown quantity to me was almost a leap of faith on my part (I like to know exactly what I’m buying so the internet is only for things I’m absolutely sure about which probably makes me just as weird as the customer I spent much of the afternoon complaining about...)

Now I’ve read the book I love the title even more – it sums up the plot and characters entirely; a little dark, somewhat mysterious, funny, disarming, and deceptively simple – or deceptively complicated (I’m still not sure which). This is a book that defies categorisation and laughs at genre, the main protagonists are two ten year old children and I would have loved it when I was in about that age, but would I have loved it more than I did now? Probably not because I think I would have missed too much, but I must find a young adult to try the book out on...

So we have these two children – a boy and a girl sent for the summer on a remote and beautiful Canadian island – but it’s a cursed community, its youth sacrificed on the battle fields of Europe and never replaced, which makes the islanders totally unprepared for youngsters like these who are more a destructive force of nature than anything else. (So pretty typical children really.) Slowly things settle down and then they get strange again when young Barnaby Gaunt’s uncle turns up. Uncle isn’t a very nice man and he has designs on Barnaby’s life (there’s quite a fortune at stake). For Christie (a very sensible young woman of highland extraction) the answer is clear – they have to kill uncle first, but how easy will that be?

Rohan O’Grady is a pen name for June Skinner who started writing novels in her 30’s whilst she bought up her children and kept house somewhere in West Vancouver. She must have been writing for her children, but she was clearly writing just as much for herself and the result is irresistible. There are some more novels out there and I’m tempted to track them down (though it’s almost certainly going to have to wait until the New Year now – and how much does being poor suck?) There’s something really unique about ‘Let’s Kill Uncle’ though if it were to remind me of anything or anyone it would be Shirley Jackson. However ‘Let’s Kill Uncle’ is a warmer more human book than anything I’ve read by Jackson. The landscape comes alive, and so does the situation – two children planning the perfect murder because they’re frightened for their own lives – two children who are aware of all the repercussions of their actions, and two children who have no-one to turn to despite being surrounded by well wishers.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough or really say how pleased I am it’s crossed my path. I really hope that the Bloomsbury group project continues and that they keep unearthing treasures like this one.


  1. It sounds great. I will look out for it; thanks for the review.

  2. Nice review Hayley - I really enjoyed this book, even though I didn't really fit in with my expectations of Bloomsbury Group titles. Also, I think I'd have been terrified as a 10 yr old! Though, having said that, I used to read Point Horror books then, which I totally wouldn't be able to do now.

  3. I dont any of these books yet (loving the new bright covers) but Im thinking of asking for some of these for christmas I'll ass that one to the list.

  4. Leon - I can't imagine anyone not liking this book a bit so do look out for it.

    Simon, I was probably a lot more bloodthirsty when I was 10, that and the things that I found scary now probably wouldn't have registered then. I sort of expect the Bloombury books to be all along the Joyce Dennys/ D E Stevenson line but 'The Bronte's Went to Woolworths', and 'Miss Hargreaves' both have a moral complexity and hint of dark things under the surface which fits the same pattern that 'Lets Kill Uncle' follows - well in my mind anyway.

    Jessica, it's a really good read - hope you get it for christmas:)