How do you write about incest for young readers with suspense, compassion, insight, and a minimum of exploitation? They’ve probably seen the TV specials, read the news features. Banks has hit on an inspired solution: Her incest victim, Melusine, has the power to turn into a serpent; the horror and disgust she experiences when her father abuses her are displaced onto the reptile she becomes at night. The author makes it possible for young readers to grasp the phenomenon of the abused child’s ”split personality,” by which she is able to distance herself from her trauma.
Melusine’s agony and redemption are seen through the eyes of Roger, a teenager vacationing with his family at the spooky French chateau owned by Melusine’s impoverished father. The reader’s viewpoint is shaped by Roger’s attraction to Melusine, his grappling with the mystery that surrounds her (What’s in the locked tower? Why is Melusine so secretive?), and his generous desire to help.
Melusine, A Mystery is a triumph of literary skill and moral complexity. Banks deftly balances the horror of Melusine’s life (never made unnecessarily explicit) against the subtly observed portrait of Roger’s wholesomely average, sane, squabbling, affectionate family. A