Had someone asked me to read a book about a 40-year-old boring man who works as a ‘case-worker’, a job that entails inspecting orphanages for magical children, I would have laughed it off. If I have to read unreal stuff, it would be horror or dystopian fiction, not ‘feel-good’ fantasy stuff. However, a lot of people I know kept heaping praises on ‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune, including a very close friend. Had to see what the fuss was all about.
First published in March 2020, this book is about case-worker Linus Baker, who is sent to an island to inspect an orphanage run by Arthur Parnassus, home to 6 ‘dangerous’ magical children. Linus is to stay there for a month, write detailed reports and decide whether the house is safe for the kids. The agency only tells him that the assignment is ‘highly classified’ and doesn’t prepare him in the least bit about what he’s about to experience. So big surprises are in store for both the protagonist and the readers.
Written for both children and adults, it is easy to see why the book has gained a lot of favor among older readers. Linus is so ‘ordinary’, that most readers will find something or the other relatable about him. It could be the organized mundane life he leads, or the meticulous way in which he works, without making friends out of colleagues. Or it could be his lack of social life outside of work, or the way in which he worries about the extra little weight around his tummy, or how he gets paranoid over the smallest of things. Baker has little bits of all of us, making him adorable in his own queer way. Pun intended.
TJ Klune employs easy to read language, with descriptions just the right size for the reader to feel transported to the scene of action. So when Linus takes a train from his city to the mysterious island, it’s almost as if you are his co-passenger, staring out at the cerulean sea, as his destination gets closer. Gradually, Klune introduces each of the six children, extremely different from each other, in shape, size and magical abilities. Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage, is a 45-year-old charming man, with some secrets of his own. But he treats the children like his own and will do anything in power to ensure they are not taken away from him.
I loved the book for most part, although I wish there were more Arthur-Linus scenes. And towards the end, when 75% of the story is done, the pace slows down a little, gets slightly soppy and feels like the author is going to give us a total Bollywood-like ending, where Linus reluctantly gets on a train and Arthur runs after him to confess his love. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. TJ Klune gives us a sweet but believable ending and wins over the reader after shaking their trust for a few fleeting pages. The six children are the heart of the story and it’s hard to decide who I adored more. It perhaps has to be a tie between Talia the little lady garden gnome with a beard and Lucy who is supposed to be the devil himself. These two kids will win readers over with their morbid sense of humour.
‘The House In The Cerulean Sea’ is peppered with humor and moments where you will laugh out loud and confuse those around you. There are some incredible friendships in there and that’s really the strongest theme of the book – that complete strangers can become your family, if you allow them in. Linus himself has a slow change of character, and it’s like watching a flower slowly bloom, opening up its petals to the sunshine around it. For a 350+ pages novel, Klune does a fantastic job of weaving each character. A few more pages of Linus and Arthur would have been gold. Yes, I feel like I cannot say that enough. Linus has warmer interactions with the children than Arthur, so their romance doesn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve been.
It’s a 4/5 from me.
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