Review

The Land of Decoration

by Grace McCleen

THE LAND OF DECORATION, a debut novel that has been translated into 16 languages, is beautifully written and brilliant. It will charm, fascinate, and leave readers with quite a lot to talk about. Grace McCleen’s writing is entrancing and resonates with clever thematic questions. This book is a premium reading choice for adults, teens and reading groups.

The subject is the life and strange experiences of 10-year-old Judith McPherson, who lives alone with her troubled, widowed father. Both father and daughter have been left with some unanswered questions about God’s reasoning for a suffering world, but they are able to find some answers in the Bible. “Father” seems to have lost much of his dignity and vitality after his wife’s death; he’s a factory worker who loves his daughter distantly and tends to deal with life’s problems with blind faith. This is a man who dives so deeply into his own biblical beliefs that neither he nor his lonely child can rationalize or function outside of them.

"...beautifully written and brilliant. It will charm, fascinate, and leave readers with quite a lot to talk about.... I highly encourage everyone to read THE LAND OF DECORATION. It is one of the best books of the year, worthy of all the praise it has received and then some."

“Father” and Judith spread the word about Armageddon by prosthelytizing, which leads to intense persecution of the girl at school. Judith’s thoughts are consumed by the anxieties of her everyday life --- particularly her most recent fear of being drowned in a school toilet by an aggressive bully --- and by much grander visions of the world ending. Judith longingly looks at death as it means she’ll get to meet her mother. She talks to God frequently in her own mind, and one day becomes elated because he actually answers her (or is this only a concealed part of Judith’s psyche beginning to break?).

The crux of the conflict is when Judith has full-on conversations with God and discovers he’s not really being straight with her about many things (maybe because of the opportunity to teach her?). Judith also begins to realize that the changes she’s making to her “Land of Decoration” might well be mirrored in real life. The construction of her “Land of Decoration” gives her the sensation of empowerment that enables her to handle the bullying situation at school.

She then dreams of awakening in her own diorama and actually meeting a God-like figure who offers her a dangerous gift “of inestimable value.” He asks her to make a choice (of course, without warning about the full consequences): “In one hand I hold a stone that contains more power than anyone has ever possessed, and its fruits are sweet but the aftertaste is bitter. In my other hand I hold a book the wisest seek to read, and its fruits are loathsome but it gives the reader wings.” What she chooses I’ll leave to your imagination. The interesting thing about this proposition is that nothing appears to be simple or direct. There isn’t really a clear right and wrong to many aspects of free will. The idea seems to be that there is a greater danger in having a choice.

In some ways, THE LAND OF DECORATION is a twisted parable constructed around classic biblical notions. However, this is also a novel that centers on many modern philosophical ideas, such as the immensity of the universe and the inconsequential nature of humans; whether creationism and religion are real or simply a mirage; the differences faith can make in the lives of true believers; the difficulties people have distinguishing between make-believe and reality; the obsessions that consume people; the problems with naively wielding absolute power; valuing people who don’t fit the mold; and, of course, the age-old, twisted biblical notions of whether an “eye for an eye” works and its relation to damnation.

I highly encourage everyone to read THE LAND OF DECORATION. It is one of the best books of the year, worthy of all the praise it has received and then some.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on March 29, 2012

The Land of Decoration
by Grace McCleen

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250024072
  • ISBN-13: 9781250024077