The seaside town of Allora is a magical, colourful, and heartbreaking place to be. The sea is so chaotic that fish jump out of it and onto the land; the houses are painted bright and beautiful; and once, decades before, the plague came by and took far too many good people with it. Alberto, the coffin maker, buried his whole family, and built a coffin for himself as well, expecting to use it straight away. But thirty years later it is still there in his workshop, unused, and Alberto quietly goes about his days making coffins for the dead instead of toys for the living, as he used to. Until! (There’s always an until.) One day, a body arrives, that of Miss Bonito, a woman who had lived a quiet life on her own. Well, that’s what everyone in Allora thought, but now, with Miss Bonito buried and the world and its flying fish carrying on, Alberto notices that things in his house are no longer where they used to be…and begins to think that Miss Bonito may have been hiding something. But what—or who—and most importantly, why?
This is a beautiful book, truly. The cover is just lovely and the writing is blue—blue!—and there are flowers around the edges of the pages. Allora seems terribly magical, with fish catapulting themselves into houses and oversized mayors and gossiping neighbours and one very colourful, slightly broken bird. It’s also beautiful right in the heart, where it hurts sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a good way for what Alberto has to go through. Grown-up books can get into this habit, sometimes, where they try and talk about important things by talking around them, so no one in them is a coffin maker because that is too directly sad. Adults seem to sometimes need a heartbroken person who plays golf, maybe, and then it takes them much longer to figure out their problems because they are spending all their time hitting a ball or having scandalous affairs or yelling at their friends or all those complicated things, and while sometimes these types of books are still very fun to read, it just makes you realise how it never works to run away from your feelings. If you are a coffin maker, you have to look at your feelings every day, and then you turn into a lovely well-adjusted adult like Alberto who will make sensible decisions about saving a hiding boy. Many grown-ups could do well to read some kids books and just look at their feelings instead of reading books that spend six hundred pages not doing that. Anyway, I had a lot of feelings when reading this, but mostly they were feelings of being thrilled by this adventure, and being happy to read something written so excellently, and glad to have this very nice-looking book in my hands.