Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp
by Odo Hirsch
Published by Allen and Unwin
288 pages, 2007
More Green Than Bartlett
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Odo Hirsch’s books range from the Bartlett adventures, set in a sort of 18th century Europe, with imaginary countries, to the Hazel Green novels, centered around a block of flats in an imaginary city in an unnamed country, and the children who live there.
Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp is closer to Hazel Green than Bartlett, but is different again. The Hazel Green tales usually have a bit of adventure and a bit of mystery and a moral. This novel is fairly strong on the moral, with some mystery and no actual adventure.
Amelia Dee lives with her eccentric parents in a green house on a street originally intended to be the city’s fashionable district, which never quite worked out. They are well off enough to have a daily housekeeper because Amelia’s inventor father once invented something that was actually useful, though he has never again come up with anything saleable. He doesn’t mind, particularly, because he is absorbed in working in his invention shed. Her mother is an artist who never actually sells or even shows her work, except in the garden, where all her sculpture goes when the mother starts a new “phase.” Mr. Vishwanath lives downstairs. He’s a yoga master who doesn’t seem to have many students, but refuses to advertise for more, because of his philosophy.
A lamp hangs in the high-ceilinged hallway which wasn’t a part of the original house. It is beautifully decorated, with animals and faces and peacocks. Amelia has a secret: her fascination with the lamp is so great that once she risked her life to lean over and grab hold of it to see closer. After this, she began to write stories, most about the lamp and what its background might have been. She has never shown them to anyone or even told her parents or friends that she writes, out of embarrassment.
Every few days, an elderly lady in a fur coat rides up to Mr Vishwanath’s door, driven by a chauffeur, and enters. Is she his sole student? Do they just talk? Amelia’s curiosity leads her to peer through the door one day. When she learns that the old lady is the last survivor of a royal family thrown out by a revolution in their country many years ago, when the princess was only a little girl like herself, she finds out more than she had expected. The peacock lamp is a part of the tragic story.
By the end of the novel, Amelia has had the courage to show her writing and the story she has written has given the elderly princess the courage she needed.
Like Hirsch’s other novels, this one is peopled with eccentric adults with their own hopes and dreams. It also seems to be set in an imaginary country. Amelia’s two friends, Eugenie and Kevin, don’t seem to play much of a role in the storyline, unlike Hazel Green’s group of friends. Eugenie, the comic relief character, does have her own personality and strong opinions about how one behaves towards a princess. She also imagines long conversations between herself and the princess, though the others know that nothing happened. She has a tendency to make the boring choice at the ice cream and juice shops when the three friends are discussing what’s happening.
Mostly, though, the two of them are just there to help Amelia think about what is happening. It would have been more interesting if they had done something, but this seems to be Amelia’s story.
Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp is a gentle story with some positive messages. If there’s no laugh-out-loud comedy, there are still smiles to be had from Mr. and Mrs. Dee and Eugenie. It’s about making the most of the life you have and giving happiness to others, leaving bitterness behind. | March 2008
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.