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Book Review: Shell by Paula Rawsthorne

17 June 20 words: Will Channell

We checked out the young adult novel...

Trapped in a body that is destined for the grave, or trapped in a body that doesn’t entirely belong to you – that appears to resist your every command?

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’! I hear you say. Well, not quite.


Again, close—but, still, no. This, in fact, is Paula Rawsthorne’s Shell.

The third of four award-winning novels, Shell follows the story of Lucy Burgess: a young female with terminal cancer who, thanks to the seemingly charming Doctor Leo Radnor in his mysterious clinic in the “middle of nowhere”, survives the world’s first full-body transplant. Owing to the illegality of her operation however, Lucy – now living under the guise of Renee Woodhouse – finds herself compelled into hiding her new identity or risk losing her parents to the American authorities.

While Rawsthorne, I think it can be assumed, probably didn’t conceptualise Shell quite like Mary Shelley conceptualised Frankenstein – inebriated on opium in the Swiss Alps – the story she tells is equally as bizarre; but in the most intensely gripping way possible. It is clear that Rawsthorne knows her target audience – the young adult – and she does a fantastic job of engaging them: providing pace and drama at every turn of the page. This is best exemplified in the first few chapters after Lucy wakes up from her operation. Rawsthorne’s prose in these chapters is incredibly sophisticated and has no trouble showcasing her authorial prowess in regards to the genre in which she engages. Every line conveys Lucy’s confusion and anxiety surrounding her situation, leaving the reader feeling just as suffocated and trapped as she herself feels. In these few chapters, I almost felt myself figuratively tripping over each sentence, each full stop, as Rawsthorne grasped my hand with her words and led me blindly (albeit eagerly) into the labyrinthine complex of Lucy Burgess – or Renee Woodhouse.

Should Rawsthorne’s literary hand reach out to you at some point, grab it with both hands – you won’t be disappointed.

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