BOOK REVIEW: Carmen Marcus: How Saints Die

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Out now

Review by Angelos Sofocleous 

Ellie, a 10-year old girl, lives by the coast with her fisherman father and has to cope with the mystery behind her mother’s absence, school bullies, and the continuous and rapid discovery of the world around her.

From the beginning of the story, it’s hard to not find something to relate to in Ellie. Whether that is the absence of one of her parents, the inability of people around her to mentally support her, or her imaginative mind; readers can easily engage with her on a trip back to their childhood. Her child innocence and the adult maturity that she shows at times are characteristic of a person who has been forced to grow up quickly.

The story of Ellie highlights the great difficulties that a child faces when social welfare and the education system is unable to provide support for her during the difficult times that she faces. For society, it seems like if something cannot be seen, it means it is not there. Mental illnesses, however, and the impact they have on their surroundings, often go unnoticed and can only be taken care of when others show considerable interest to look further into the illness, either of the sufferer’s or of the people around them.

Even if the novel can be characterised as autobiographical, it is with real mastery that Carmen Marcus manages to depict the mind of a child with such success. Marcus’s story enables us to experience vicariously Ellie’s thoughts and feelings, allowing us to understand how a child thinks in such challenging situations.

‘Clickclickclick, padpadpad, shushush, tickticktick’. This is how Carmen Marcus manages to play with all of the reader’s senses and successfully convey her message. It’s easy to make someone read a story as an outsider, but it’s immensely difficult to make the reader feel as if they are part of the story. Carmen Marcus’ ability to make an adult reader part of the troubling world of a 10-year old child is what makes this novel unique.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit