“Travel light” is an exhortation protagonist Halla hears at one point in this singular slim book; it’s a tactic that enables her to travel farther and faster than she otherwise might, not being unduly burdened. It’s also a tactic the book itself employs, moving from what at first seems to be a fairy tale that might employ familiar tropes — wicked stepmothers, and such — into several quite different things, not burdened with the notion that it needs to keep an easily described shape. I wouldn’t exactly say that the novel grows more sophisticated as Halla trades innocence for age and wisdom — for one thing, that implies it’s relatively unsophisticated at the outset, itself a gross simplification. But I’d argue that the novel has little truck with linear progressions of any sort. How does the book go from being a girl-raised-by-animals story to a not completely unsatirical socio-political tale set in a mildly fantastic Constantinople? It travels light.
This was my introduction to Naomi Mitchison; I’ll certainly seek out more.