Adelaide’s Secret World

posted in: Elise Hurst | 5

Adelaide is one of life’s gentle observers. Once surrounded by hustle and bustle, Adelaide now finds peace in subtler sights and quieter sounds, looking out for others who are set apart by their solitude.

Adelaide imagines the stories surrounding those she watches and decides to do what she can to bring them together. By connecting threads and being brave enough to reach out, she herself also finds friendship.

A poised and powerful story about attachment and being alone, about reaching out and looking in, Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst is uncommon, remarkable and moving.

The book’s arresting cover, with the title almost hidden shimmering in the darkness (sadly the silver foil isn’t captured in the cover image I have), opens to reveal Hurst’s subtle and poetic narrative and her exquisite oil paintings as a touchstone book – the rare sort that will stay with some readers all their lives, having shifted something deep inside them.

The stunning, hugely appealing artwork – with characterization that reminded me of Beatrix Potter and an offbeat imagination that made me think of Shaun Tan – is startling not least because it is executed in the unusual and bold medium of rich and textured oils. The sense of energy expressed through strong brushstrokes and a changing palette as the story unfolds and then draws together creates a intensely satisfying sense of momentum, whilst the hidden stories regarding characters who only appear in the illustrations, and not in the text, will delight anyone who loves to spot hidden puzzles, and in doing so feel inaugurated into a secret club with the book’s creator.

An exploration of finding meaning in life, showing that slower, stiller times can also be full of comfort and delight, Adelaide’s Secret World is an enigmatic and beautiful book. Its quietness will likely mean that discoverers feel part of an underground society, who have stumbled across something it is surprising the wider world doesn’t know about.

Inspired by the light in the darkness Adelaide surrounds herself with, we first created lanterns to illuminate our winter nights.

We covered jamjars with tissue paper and PVA glue, before placing tea candles inside.

I’m pretty certain Adelaide would have enjoyed our lamps.

My girls were taken by how Adelaide makes miniature worlds, blurring the boundary between her imagination and real life:

So more jam jars were cleaned and we set about creating Lilliputian landscapes…

…populated by friends-in-waiting for Adelaide.

A great story creates new worlds inside the reader, worlds they carry around for ever as part of their make-up. Adelaide’s Secret World is one such book for us. Its world has become part of ours, generating new ones along the way.


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Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by its publisher, Allen and Unwin. Already out in Australia, Adelaide’s Secret World publishes in the UK in early January 2017.

5 Responses

  1. Sounds like a winner Zoe. Love the jars!

    • It definitely is a winner, Jayne 🙂 We’ve had the jars lit up at night in the garden – they look great through our patio doors.

  2. I love her book Imagine a City! I didn’t realize she’d written anything else.

    • I didn’t know about Imagine a City! Although she’s over 50 books to her name I think their distribution/sales are vary varied in different parts of the world outside her home, Australia.
      Zoe recently posted..Adelaide’s Secret World

  3. How big / long is the book and what do you reckon would be the minimum age (approx) who you feel would enjoy it?
    Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..Use this powerful tool to choose your next holiday read

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