1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.
Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.
But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.
That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.
The wolf in the attic was enjoyable to read - it read well, to convert a term from TV cooking shows. The prose really does bring to mind dusty, mahogany-and-green offices laden with books and ashtrays and inkwells. I suppose "Oxford" can be effective shorthand for that.
Before I read this, I had unfortunately come across some oddly misleading blurbs - ones that led me to believe this would be a story about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, which had me ruffling my feathers once it turned out their named(!) presence had no real impact on Anna Francis' story. That sort of thing happens - it isn't the novel's flaw at all.
So: It read well, I devoured it fast, it was a nice time. Unfortunately, I found it ended up somewhat limp and aimless. All the more disappointing because there were good things going into the book - For instance, I found it educational - I didn't know much about the events that drove Anna Francis and her father away from Greece, so I sort of fell into wikipedia (because of my own curiousity, not plot necessity) to read up on the Ottomans and the Balkan wars. I mention this as a clear positive trait of the novel, because it made me want to know things.
Anna Francis is a very likeable young protagonist, which also helps a lot. It is very much her coming-of-age story.
But then her friend Luca and his people make me squirm a little bit. There's more than just a whiff of other-izing a clearly identifiable ethnic group, which just doesn't sit well, no matter how much it "fits" the narrative. For this reader, anyway. It sours what would otherwise be a decent and utterly cosy option for times when you want some, uh, Oxfordian magic.