“The world is a weird and wonderful place. Why must we try and explain it all away? For our pleasure?”
The above quote from “The House in the Cerulean Sea” manages to quite succinctly capture the very essence of the book it is taken from. Written by T. J. Klune, this fantasy fiction novel tackles mankind’s tendency to fear what it does not understand. The plot of the novel has a multitude of layers and meanings and yet succeeds in coming across as raw and enjoyable, and therein lies its most significant victory.
"We should always make time for the things we like. If we don't, we might forget how to be happy."
Set in a fictional world where magical
creatures exist naturally and are yet, shunned; the book follows the life of Linus Baker, an ordinary middle-aged man who is a caseworker for the “Department in Charge of Magical Youths (DICOMY).” His job is to investigate orphanages that house magical children, write a report that determines either the continuation or discontinuation of these establishments, and justify it all within uncompromising parameters of fairness. Linus acknowledges his work to be routine and boring and, yet, is law-abiding to a fault, as is demonstrated by his rote knowledge of the ‘RULES AND REGULATIONS.’
"Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people are building it up to a roar.”
The break in his monotonous life, and hence the beginning of the novel’s main plot, arrives in the form of a mysterious ‘top secret’ assignment from ‘EXTREMELY UPPER MANAGEMENT.’ He is ordered to travel to a clandestine orphanage on Marsyas Island, inhabited by six highly magical children and their caretaker, Arthur Parnassus. While Linus is assured that the investigation is entirely routine, the island's inhabitants are classified as highly dangerous, and it is heavily implied that the government is just looking for an excuse to shut the orphanage down.
“Humanity is so weird. If we’re not laughing, we’re crying or running for our lives because monsters are trying to eat us. And they don’t even have to be real monsters. They could be the ones we make up in our heads. Don’t you think that’s weird?”
What follows is Linus’ journey into a world hitherto unknown to him, a world made of towering houses and cerulean seas, island sprites and gnomes, shapeshifting dogs and faeries, with the literal Antichrist thrown in the midst, all topped off with the enigmatic and gentle caregiver, Arthur Parnassus. The author portrays Arthur as the epitome of acceptance, kind and gentle and completely unconditional when loving the people in his life. In a way, Arthur inspires the readers to let go of their preconceived notions and love the world and its creatures as they are. Over the course of roughly seventeen chapters, Linus learns to look at the world in a completely different way, shedding his prejudices and accepting the people around him for who they are. In the process, he finds the peace and happiness that he’d always yearned for.
“Sometimes our prejudices colour our thoughts when we least expect them to. If we can recognise that and learn from it, we can become better people.”
The novel is bright and lively, written with such exquisite care that it seems like the author’s very heart is contained within the pages. The plot flows seamlessly from one event to the next, and readers are bound to grow along with the protagonist. It is, however, the cast of extremely well-written characters that carry the book, making the story fun and light-hearted to the point where the heaviness of the underlying metaphor ceases to be daunting. All in all, with a
pandemic ravaging the earth for the past two years and thus, creating a situation where humanity’s only hope of survival is by taking care of each other. One cannot translate the whimsy that author Klune was able to create. This is a feel-good novel that is both amusing and enlightening. It will change the way you perceive “If you see something, say something”. This book is an absolute must-read.