Welcome to a world where kitchens are populated by gods, where you know your death day well in advance, where children make their parents (yes, literally construct them), and where the best protection from a sudden downpour could actually be a table. Because it rains knives.
Scarper Lee’s schooldays are blighted by the imminence of his death day. Schoolmates and teachers alike treat him differently because of it, and that’s even before a new girl at school lands in his life, challenging all the givens and ready to turn what’s left of it upside down. At home his parents - a Bakelite hairdryer (Mum) and a brass and sail construction of indeterminate purpose (Dad, who’s kept in the shed) - remain his constant but slightly distant touchstones. How is a teenager supposed to deal with the last three weeks of his life in these circumstances?
There’s a lot to like in the world Rob Davis has created for The Motherless Oven (2014). To begin with it feels real - there’s a sense of establishment and history that’s completely believable, no matter how bizarre or unexplained to a real world sensibility the details are. Scarper’s life completely convinces, and Davis creates characters who fully inhabit their environment. There’s a danger in building a world around wordplay and bizarre quirks, a risk that all you get are a series of unconnected gimmicks. Not so here. Everything feels joined up and of a piece. Likewise the relationships, both established and new, work well and help to sell Scarper as attractive, put-upon protagonist in what’s in equal parts coming-of-age tale and exploration of free will and destiny.