Sometimes you can tell from the beginning that a book is going to be awesome. Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry was one of them, and it was primarily due to the strength of the author’s voice. Chloe leapt off the very first page like the vibrant and delightfully individual character that she is, and her unwavering honesty and cheerful acceptance of her various ‘conditions’ made her highly endearing.
This book follows on from STIM, but you don’t need to have read it first. The central character in STIM is Robert, Chloe’s boyfriend, and near the end of that book, they experience the earthquake that shocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010. Kaleidoscope is narrated by Chloe, a bipolar Aspie (person with Asperger’s syndrome), and near the beginning of this book, she and Robert experience the more disastrous February 2011 Earthquake that demolished Christchurch’s central business district and killed over 100 people. The earthquake and the difficulties it imposes on the people of Christchurch in the following months makes this book more dramatic and action orientated than STIM, which for many will make it the better book, but both books are excellent; STIM simply has a different kind of energy. It reflects Robert’s placid and stable nature, whereas Kaleidoscope reflects Chloe’s volatility. She is prone to impulses and wild schemes, which allows for more surprises.
People with Asperger’s syndrome find change difficult to handle, so Chloe has particular difficulty adjusting to the aftermath of the earthquake. Her task in this book is to come back to some level of personal stability.
As with STIM, this book has a striking ‘realness’ about it. There is no pretense or artifice; like the characters, Berry simply tells it as it is. I have read the speculative fiction books Berry co-authored and, though well worth a read for those who like fantasy parody, they pale into insignificance beside these simple and charming masterpieces. It is wonderful to see an author’s true talent emerge in this way, and I hope we can look forward to more books written with the same honesty and integrity.
One of the charming things about this book is Berry’s humour. It comes out in puns and delightful neologisms, e.g. ‘The university towers quagswagged like populars in a breeze’, and the dialogue about time travel between Chloe, who is in the middle of a manic episode, and a woman waiting outside a portable toilet had me chuckling. ‘It’s a freaking port-a-loo, not a tardis,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t go anywhere and it’s definitely no bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.’
We also get a real glimpse into the Kiwi spirit in how they handle life in post-quake Christchurch. Chloe and Robert are trying to have sex in a tree when an aftershock happens. They are shaken from the tree and fall in the river. When their neighbour hauls them out, he makes no comment on what they were doing in the tree, simply gives his estimate of the strength, depth and epicentre of the quake. Apparently, the locals are very good at guessing now. Another interesting point is how Chloe receives her first information immediately post-quake about what’s happening in the Christchurch CBD via a text from her father in Melbourne who is watching it unfold on television.
Chloe’s dreams of the CBD Red Zone, the demolition area roped off by the army, are particularly powerful, as is her reaction when she skates around the perimeter and looks in at the destruction. Her thoughts and feelings mirror mine exactly when I saw the damage for myself a year after the quake.
All up, this is a wonderful book, I highly recommend it to all readers, especially to anyone with someone with Asperger’s or bi-polar disorder in their life. Berry brings this charming and ruthlessly honest story alive with a clear and distinctive voice.