Review No.116 – The Catalogue of the Universe

The Catalogue of the Universe – Margaret Mahy

CollinsFlamingo, 2002

Poised between the end of school and the beginning of adulthood, the dazzling, discontented Angela May and her friend Tycho Potter are each searching for a place in the world – Angela in the form of the father she has never met, romanticised by childhood stories but now dangerously attainable, Tycho through the mysteries of ancient Greek philosophers and the cautious pursuit of Angela herself. Their separate dreams become entangled, more complicated than either could have envisaged, and the dreams they thought they were chasing are not at all what they seemed.

I fully expected to like this book. Margaret Mahy is one of my favourite writers and while I don’t love everything she’s written, I have never been offended by her before. This book, though, made me angry. Angela is slut-shamed several times by different people and it is never addressed; there are jokes about domestic violence and rape that are similarly dismissed as insignificant within the narrative. These views are consistent with the characters espousing them but could and should have been refuted in some way instead of being supported by the omission. This is Margaret Mahy; I expect so much better than this from her. I still think she’s a brilliant writer, but I am deeply disappointed by the messages in this book, and cannot recommend it.

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