A fews years ago, my house filling up with how-to-do-it books on painting technique all written by me, I decided my non-fiction writing was getting repetitive and that I would like to try my hand at fiction. I have found this truly fascinating, but more difficult that I ever imagined! I have enjoyed every moment of writing The Ophelia Box, and fell totally in love with the characters.
It was with huge pleasure that I opened The Ophelia Box, having known for so long that Jenny was writing a novel. It is set in the Edale (darkly called Grymewyck) of Jenny’s childhood. From the eyes of a child Ophelia Gunn tries to make sense of the bizarre happenings in her dysfunctional family, and, like many lonely children, turns to a secret friend for comfort. In her case, it’s a photograph of a dark-eyed boy. She knows nothing about him, but one day, she is sure, she’ll meet him and he will rescue her.
The other voice in the novel is Asa, who falls in love with Ophelia the first time he sees her, and holds the memory of her tight as he grows older. He becomes a psychiatrist, lives far away, and it would seem unlikely that he would ever see her again.
Both Asa and Ophelia have quests. Ophelia longs to meet her real mother, who seems to have abandoned her as soon as she was born. Asa is haunted by the memory of his sister Anna, as she looked out at him from the window of a train in Vienna. Later, he was evacuated to England on the Kinder transport.
There is grief and bewilderment and sadness in the story, many extraordinary characters and events, and, above all, there is huge fun as Jenny’s delicious sense of humour licks all her characters into shape. I will never forget the image of Ophelia sticking a bunch of roses into the kettle, using the bars of the element to keep the stems upright. Jenny triumphantly ties up all the threads at the end of the book, leaving us with the sense that both Ophelia and Asa have found themselves and will move forward.
Comedy, mystery, romance, tragedy within family life – The Ophelia Box interweaves these elements into a gripping narrative. There’s a delight in storytelling that involves readers, making them almost complicit in incidents leading to breakdowns in communication between the heroine and hero. It’s as though Jenny Rodwell is saying “Of yes, you know what will happen next, now enjoy it.” Yet the plot is inventive, with playful twists and an enigmatic ending. The central characters of Ophelia and Asa are singular personalities who equally engage our sympathies but the most memorable creation is self-obsessed stepmother April. Her delusions of ancestral grandeur and of being a modern-day Viking are a source of clever humour and a catalyst for the climax of this pleasurably addictive read.
Capriciously funny and unpredictable, yet intricately connected like the links of a chain, the stories of Ophelia and Asa twist and turn their way through the ripples caused by three intensely dysfunctional families… some by design, some by circumstance… and others by sheer madness.
Fearing that madness will be her fate, Ophelia hides away from the future in a world of her own making, where the photograph of the dark-eyed boy is her only true friend.
Lost and uncomfortable with a life that began in great uncertainty, Asa struggles to understand himself and his genetic inheritance through a search for his missing sister, Anna.
Never entirely certain of anything around him, least of all his own motives, Asa holds on to the few things that have real meaning in his life… the face of his sister, last seen through the window of a train… a memory of his parent’s shoes, and… most importantly… a lock of Ophelia’s hair.