by Victor LaValle
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Pub Date 05 Jul 2018 | Archive Date 05 Jul 2018
When Apollo Kagwa was just a child, his father disappeared, leaving him with recurring nightmares and a box labelled 'Improbabilia'. Now a successful book dealer, Kagwa has a family of his own after meeting and falling in love with Emma, a librarian. The two marry and have a baby: so far so happy-ever-after.
However, as the pair settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Emma's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, until one day she commits an unthinkable act, setting Apollo on a wild and fantastical quest through a suddenly otherworldly New York, in search of a wife and child he no longer recognises.
An epic novel for our anxiety-ridden times, The Changeling is a tale of parenthood, love - in its most raw and brutal form - and, ultimately, humanity.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 14 members
The Changeling is one of the most remarkable, and least predictable, books I have ever read.
If I had to compare it to anything, it would be one of the Grimm's fairy tales, before they were sanitised for children. The old stories were about the many privations endured by families in the most difficult circumstances. It is about what you are willing to do for your children, good and bad, and how this can drive parents to the most difficult and deluded decisions.
When Apollo and Emma meet, and fall in love, you think the story is going to follow a certain path. The story has already been quite eventful up to that point. Emma has been raised by her big sister. Apollo's mother Lillian has escaped from war-torn Uganda, met a nice man, and had a lovely son. Apollo has found his dream job.
This is merely a prelude to the craziness. Everyone has secrets. Emma starts behaving in a way that most people would regard as being unhinged. The real story, a kind of epic quest, begins. It would be a shame to spoil it for future readers. You will not see it any of it coming.
This is what you get when you tell a real fairy tale, with all of the associated horror, wonder and magic and it is, quite simply, stunning. The novel tells the story of Apollo Kagwa and his wife, Emma as they meet, fall in love, get married and have a child. Then, things go horribly wrong and Apollo has to search for meaning in the depths of sorrow, while he is exposed to a world he never knew existed. The first third of the book is fairly standard fare in terms of family dynamics told in compelling prose. The turning point of the book hits you with a blast and from that point on, the book becomes a surreal exploration of what it means to be a parent in the modern world with modern sensibilities, facing ancient fears. There are strong feminist elements to the narrative, which forces the reader to confront the way in which society treats women once they become wives and mothers. Similarly, there are interesting comments on what it means to be black in a white neighbourhood. All of this is wonderfully wrapped up in what is, at heart, a modern fairy tale. This book leaves you with the belief that monsters are indeed real and has such a sinister mood that lingers long after you put the book down. There are some truly horrific scenes in the book and it is definitely not an easy read, but it is a staggeringly satisfying one that I would recommend to anyone with a love of fantasy, or anyone who can remember how cool it was to be scared when you were a kid.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I always say that I'm no fan of magical realism; that I like my realist fiction to be realist, my magic definitely, clearly supernatural. But perhaps it's the term "magical realism" which I don't really care for, not the genre itself, and I'd be openminded enough to enjoy it if branded as "fantasy" or "horror" fiction.
Take Victor LaValle's "The Changeling". It starts off as an ultra-realist depiction of a young, black family in New York. The relationship between book-dealer Apollo Kagwa and librarian Emma Valentine is tenderly depicted, from their tentative courtship, to their marriage, to the birth of their son Brian, named after Apollo's estranged father. We sense Apollo's enthusiasm at being a new dad and LaValle's observations about "New Dads", 21st Century father sharings family duties with their wives, are wry but spot-on. Can realist fiction get more real than this?
Unexpectedly, the novel changes gears. The blurb speaks of an "unspeakable act of violence", which I will not reveal so as not to spoil its gut-wrenching effect. Even such a horrific crime, however, remains, unfortunately, within the realm of the possible, as watching the 8'o clock news will reveal. It is the justification of the act which propels us into the mythical. What follows is a Gaiman-esque, mind-bending journey into an alternative and unlikely New York, peopled by characters, creatures and plot-tropes which would not have been out of place in a Scandinavian epic. And there is, indeed, the feel of a medieval Northern saga in Apollo Kagwa's journey into the heart of the tragedy which has struck his family.
Surprisingly, the more fantastic the story becomes, the more it becomes rooted in the present. The realities of contemporary urban living, including our fixation on social media, not only feature in the novel, but are an intrinsic aspect of the plot.
The Changeling had me hooked and, like a olden-day bard, LaValle keeps us hanging onto his words. What this novel certainly shows is that myths are just a different way of portraying the world, a magical depiction of the everyday. Isn't that what magical realism is all about?
I read The Changeling while I was in hospital awaiting surgery, but you could read it on a park bench in the sunshine and still be frightened, sickened and totally gripped.
I discovered (via Google) that the protagonist, Apollo Kagwa, might be named after a Colonial-era Ugandan politician. I don't know enough about that period in history to know if this is meaningful or coincidental! Apollo is one of two rare book dealers in New York who happen to be Black. His outsider status is a theme throughout the novel- the scene where Apollo navigates an island ruled by witches mirrors the earlier scene where he nervously enters a white man's garage.. His best friend Patrice lives in an illegal sublet in a white neighbourhood, as invisible as the witches on their shrouded isle. Apollo himself spends time on Rikers, the island where New York hides its undesirables. The monster that steals Apollo's child is a Colonist- it travelled to New York with some Norwegian pilgrims and helped them fulfil their Manifest Destiny in exchange for human sacrifice. Apollo is constantly forced to travel through spaces that are barred to him (literally and figuratively- Apollo has to undo magic spells to unlock hidden doors *and* sneak past cops patrolling all-white neighbourhoods) He escapes traps by fooling his captors, much like the heroes in Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk. The 'death' of Baby Brian is no more gruesome than Cinderella's stepmother's demise, but it horrifies us because it takes place in an apartment in New York in the 21st century; no-one comes to kiss the baby back to life for 400 pages. The recognisable fairy tale tropes are what make The Changeling uncanny; the modern setting really raises the stakes. I'm excited to learn that The Changeling has been optioned for TV- I will recommend this book to fans of fairy tales, horror, and weird urban lit (like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and China Mieville's King Rat)
An ancient fairy tale tale told in modern day New York. Apollo and Emma are a young couple struggling to cope with all the trials and pressures of life, particularly the balancing act between parenting baby Brian and their careers.
A tale full of magical realism and horror, the biggest evil of all being, perhaps, today's over reliance on technology and social media.
Sometimes disturbing and also a little weird at times, just the way I like books to be.
This was a weird and fantastical read and no mistake! The writing is very good and immediately drew me in. The premise was intriguing, the set-up promising and the plot was a lot of fun - touching, creepy, exciting and surprising. It wasn't without fault however as the pace sometimes flagged a little and the ending could've packed more punch if it hadn't been so long in coming. That said, the scene when the story suddenly changes focus (you will know it when you read it) is outstanding, really horrifying and breathtaking. The whole story raises some really interesting questions and supplies some pretty disturbing questions about just what lengths a parent will go to for their child. Recommended for fans of magical realism and urban fantasy or the general reader who fancies something a bit different.