Noel Virtue was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1947. The author of eight novels and an autobiography, he is now established as one of New Zealand's leading contemporary novelists.
The protagonist of this first novel is a sensitive young boy being raised in New Zealand by parents who belong to a fanatical religious cult called The Brethren. Much is made of young Elsdon's morbid fantasiesthe book opens as he finds the skeleton of a dead baby in the atticand we are never sure what is and isn't real. Did Elsdon's best friend really murder his two siblings? Did a ``Chinaman'' really eat his cat? One thing that we are sure of is Elsdon's mother's brutality. When his father disappears his mother goes over the edge, beating Elsdon until he blacks out and dragging him into a more and more degrading lifestyle. The author piles on one horror after another, focusing so intently on Elsdon's misery that the other characters are poorly developed and never adequately explained. In spite of the imaginative premise, the novel reads like a case history of child abuse. (September 7)
'Little Elsdon must be the worst-treated child in literature since Smike. But Virtue sensibly sustains the robust, laconic idiom of his native New Zealand, and never attempts to play the violin on his reader's heartstrings. Elsdon's untarnished optimism lights the bleakest landscapes and carries him to safety.' - INDEPENDENT 'A wonderful account of childhood that touches you to the quick with its painfully funny amalgam of misery and euphoria.' - MAIL ON SUNDAY