by Catherine Jinks
Published by Allen & Unwin
180 pages, 2007
Ghostless in Canberra
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Elysium is part of Catherine Jinks' Allie’s Ghost Hunters series. I read and reviewed Eglantine from this series. It proved to be an enjoyable children’s ghost story: the heroine and her friends played detective, using their research skills and the school library to work out why a child ghost was haunting a room and how to lay it to rest.
This time out, Allie Gebhardt, president of the Exorcists’ Club, travels with her mother and brother and her mother’s boyfriend to stay at a hotel near the famous Jenolan Caves in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, where she is going on a Ghost Tour at Caves House, a haunted hotel. The novel is written as a report to those other members of the club who can’t make it on the tour.
While there, she offers advice on someone’s dreams about a dead grandmother and encounters -- sort of -- a creature from local Aboriginal myth which is supposed to capture its prey by making it faint from the awful smell. Without question, there is something very smelly around the place, and somebody is going to end up covered in disgusting goo!
At the same time, Allie has to deal with family issues, such as her father’s utterly ridiculous New Age girlfriend, her friend Michelle’s family troubles and others.
There’s a lot of humor in this story and Jinks' style is as enjoyable as usual. What it doesn’t actually seem to be is a ghost story, or even a monster tale, or the paranormal adventure hinted at on the cover. If it was a stand-alone story, or promoted as just a light-hearted tale about family issues with a little monster and ghost stuff in the background, this would be fine. In fact, it can be read more or less stand-alone, though the cover and internal references make it clear that this is one of four novels so far.
But a child who has read the other three, or even the cover blurb on the back of this one, would assume they were going to read something at least a little scary, and that isn't remotely the case. No ghosts appear, nobody is ever in any real danger from the Otherworld and while Allie gives advice about laying to rest the ghost of the grandmother of one of the characters, the ghost doesn’t actually appear on stage. No ghost appears, actually. One supposed haunting turns out to be a joke played by one of the less-sympathetic characters. The Mumuga -- the dung-smelling creature -- does nothing worse than make the ridiculous girlfriend smell awful. That’s assuming it is the creature that is responsible. The author never commits herself about this.
I quite enjoyed Elysium, myself, but I suspect children expecting a ghost story will be disappointed. That's a pity. Catherine Jinks is a fine, versatile writer who has created everything from historical fiction in the Pagan series to science fiction, from children’s fiction such as the Allie’s Ghost Hunters series to adult fiction. Elysium is as entertaining as one has gotten to expect from Jinks, it just doesn’t quite work as the kind of story it is supposed to be. | March 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.