If this book sounds like a fairy tale then I am sorry to tell you that this one does not have a happy ever after. The First Book of Calamity Leek is the debut novel of Paula Lichtarowicz and in it she creates a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
The story is told through the eyes of Calamity Leek, a girl in her teens who, along with her sisters, lives in a garden behind the wall of safekeeping completely shut off from the outside world. The girls are brought to the garden at a young age and watched over by Aunty and Mother. It goes without saying that Aunty and Mother are not the caring people they would have the girls believe and of course the sisters are not really sisters. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler; the story is not so much about how the sisters came to be there but more about how they discover the lies they have been brought up in and the crumbling of the world they thought they knew.
Starting on the night when one of the sisters looks over the wall and begins to question the truth of Aunty’s stories, from then on the book tells the tale of what happened and the aftermath, as Calamity desperately tries to keep hold of everything she has been told and make sense of the new truth. The language used by the sisters and the description of their life gives the impression of a quaint world straight out of a film – they are even named after old film characters and UK landmarks; but it soon becomes apparent that the idyllic world is just a cover for a dark secret cooked up by two disturbed women.
Having finished the book, I cannot quite make up my mind if I actually enjoyed it. This is an unusual take on a story that is essentially about kidnapping and abuse, the quaint language and naivety of the girls makes it palatable but nonetheless sad. If we were feeling picky we might question how no one thought to check the secluded orphanage when local girls in Wales started to go missing but aside from that it is an interesting and thought provoking read. I do not know if I enjoyed the First Book of Calamity Leek but it did make me wonder how you can ever convince someone of the truth when everything they have ever been told is a lie.