They say you should never judge a book by its cover and in the case of Oligarchy you should also not judge it by its blurb! Pertaining to be a British boarding school story with an air of mystery it would be fair to assume that young girls would be tempted to pick this up. There is mention of eating disorders and “Instagram angst” on the back cover but what lies within the pages is anything but a book suitable for children.
Within the two hundred pages there is anorexia, bulimia, death, drowning, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, paedophelia, allusion to arranged marriage, self-harm and underage drinking. It sounds like a shocking list but because of the unusual nature of how many of these things are framed it is not necessarily shocking but merely exasperating.
There are moments of promise – the characterisation of Aunt Sonja is particularly successful, and although at first she appears to be a comic character, as the book draws to a close she has a serious message for her young charge and the book’s protagonist, Natasha.
Much of the prose, however, just seems to ramble from one irrelevant point to another without adding much to the story. The book does improve with time and the second half is much more readable than the first; perhaps as the reader gets used to the peculiar mix of serious issues and what oftentimes appears misplaced humour. Is it ever appropriate to cover the grave mental health disorder of anorexia nervosa in children with humour?
In some ways this is a deeply uncomfortable read but it became more apparent as the story went on that much of this discomfort comes from the mismatched blurb to who the story is really aimed at. It is certainly not aimed at the young girls who may pick it up. But this is a subjective view and the overriding feeling from the quotations on the cover is that perhaps this is one of those ‘marmite books’ – you will either love it and understand the comedy or not.