The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

The Land of Decoration is one of the books in the Waterstones 11.

The Land of Decoration tells the story of Judith and her father who live their lives walking door to door in a desolate town spreading the end of times advice of their fundamentalist religion. They share an estranged relationship and have done since Judith’s mother died when she was born. Judith lives her secluded life in her bedroom creating stories on a model of their town which she has named The Land of Decoration.

In this land Judith escapes and makes models made from rubbish she finds on a daily basis. She creates herself, her father and the town in minute detail. This is all rather innocent until she is bullied at school and prays for God to make it snow. Judith then makes it snow in the land of decoration with shaving foam, cellophane and cotton wool. When she awakes in the morning the town is covered in a frozen whiteness and Judith believes she has performed a miracle. This is solidified when she begins to hear the voice of God.

The Land of Decoration is an awkward novel. It squirms with depression, loneliness and oppression and has a voyeuristic feel in its narrative. The characters religious beliefs are a huge factor in the book and add an overbearing edge that forces the reader into an uncomfortable frame of mind. The religion apes the Jehovah Witness’ and features their beliefs to a tee – such as not celebrating Christmas or birthdays. They are also vehemently against blood transfusions, which attributed to Judith’s mother passing.

Grace McCleen has used this overbearing nature to add a layer of discomfort and anger to the audience. She uses her own past to fuel these aspects and it is done very well. It’s Judith’s beliefs that drive the misery in her life, it is the reason that she is bullied at school and the town looks down on her and her father. Judith’s life is actually rather depressing. In fact, the entire book has a way of making the reader feel melancholy.

The bullying is actually rather vivid and horrific. Judith is subjected to verbal, physical and mental bullying every day at school. Each scene is upsetting and brimming with anger, they are very difficult scenes to read. The situation only gets worse when the workers at the factory where Judith’s father works declare a strike. Her father doesn’t take part and is suddenly the subject of bullying himself.

Suddenly the bullying takes place at their home as they are harassed and hounded and their property is vandalised. There is moment late in the book which wrenches the heart as the bullies defecate on Judith’s garden and she sneaks out in the night to clean it up before her father sees it. McCleen doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to making the reader feel for the cast.

I’m probably not selling the novel very well and that’s quite likely because I don’t really know my own thoughts on the book. There are parts I enjoyed and parts that made me want to abandon the book for good. At times the book felt overly long, possibly because of the depressing nature of the subject matter. I don’t mind books that are generally sad but at times I felt sapped of energy while reading as things went from bad to worse.

I did enjoy the aspect of God talking to Judith as the reader is forced to wonder if this little girl is really talking to our creator or whether her life has driven her to madness. The conversations they have are full of possible controversy and the topic of whether religion is good for us or not. The Land of Decoration would make a terrific book for book clubs due to the topics it raises.

My favourite aspect of the plot is the growth of Judith’s father. He begins as a man who is scared to feel or express emotion. He forces the Bible onto his daughter and won’t let any enjoyment into their house. He is driven by the loss of his wife and his life becomes unbearable during the strike in which he is victimised for not standing with his workmates. In the latter half of the book his personality takes on a feeling of madness that is both worrying and wonderful in its inclusion.

I’m not entirely sure who the book is aimed at, though. At times I heartily believed that this novel was for adults only as the subjects are often full of upset and emotion, but I wonder if this would make a good YA novel and raise thoughts in younger people. Regardless the novel is very sinister in its tone and should be noted before embarking on reading it.

Throughout Judith’s journey she believes that she performs several miracles and becomes God’s tool on Earth. Suddenly she believes that she wields great power and the story takes on a whole new darkness. The ending, which of course I won’t divulge, is both brilliantly executed and awfully troubling. Personally, while finding it uncomfortable to read I thought the dénouement was a stroke of genius.

The beauty of this book comes from its ability to create discussion and debate. The story itself is good, but not great but, the characters are intricate and believable. I found myself incredibly torn with this novel as there are some brilliant aspects to McCleen’s debut work, but I can’t shake the moments when I wanted to give up on it. I’m certainly glad I finished if only to experience the ending but don’t go into this novel thinking that everything will be sunny and happy.

Published by Chatto & Windus. This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

2 thoughts on “The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

  1. savidgereads

    Hmmmm interesting thoughts. Sounds like you are a little conflicted on the book, and this makes me want to read it more (it popped through my letter box a while ago). I am going to save it as I now have half of the other Waterstones 11 in the TBR and don’t want to over indulge in them or too many modern debuts, I will be reading this one eventually. Though I don’t like the sound of the religion aspect, bullying in books which makes you uncomfortable is bullying well written. Margaret Atwood’s ‘Cat’s Eye’ made me very, very uncomfortable but it was a superb book about bullying.

    1. Dog Ear Post author

      I was absolutely conflicted with this one. It’s one of those books that frustrates because it is equal in good points and bad.

      I got Cat’s Eye for Christmas and can’t wait to get round to it… and the other Atwood novels I have. I haven’t read any… for shame!


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