January 6th, 2009


December Books, Rather Late

Not surprisingly, moving house in December didn’t leave me much time for reading. I wanted to write about Tamsin, by Peter S Beagle, which was a Christmas present from huskyteer. She picked it because she’d enjoyed another book by the same author. I’d wanted to try it because Geranium Cat recommended it. Another incentive was that most of the book is set in Dorset, where I live. It’s not what I’d usually read because I’d take one look at it, think ‘fantasy!’ and reject it out of hand. This, though, is a genuine ghost story.

The book opens in New York, where bratty, essentially urban Jenny lives with her divorced mother and Mister Cat. It’s written in the first person, by an older Jenny who is unsparing of her younger, selfish self. Mother falls in love with an Englishman and Jenny is transported, almost literally kicking and screaming, to an old house in rural Dorset. From the start the whole family (two new stepbrothers as well as a stepfather) sense a strangeness about the house. Jenny, probably because of her age and her own unhappiness, meets Tamsin, a girl from the 17th century who has become ‘stuck’, unable to leave her old home. The reader immediately senses the dangerousness of the relationship and rushes through the rest of the book to find out what happens.

I have a few quibbles about the book. You don’t drive through Southampton when travelling from London to Dorset; Yeovil is not in Dorset; there is no university at Dorchester. The strange beings Jenny meets, in the tiresome manner of such creatures, always address Jenny by her full name, Jenny Gluckstein, which I find madly irritating. The ending is not quite as frightening as it should be. Nevertheless, I could hardly put the book down until I’d finished it.

I re-read A Village Affair, by Joanna Trollope because I’d watched the TV dramatisation. I liked it less than the first time I read it. I’ve pretty much given up on Joanna Trollope since Marrying the Mistress and I still think Other People’s Children is her best book.
Star Gazing, by Linda Gillard I liked a lot for its insights into the life of a blind woman. I couldn’t feel, though, that either of the loves of her life was quite worthy of her.
No Cure for Death, a Sheila Malory mystery by Hazel Holt, was reliably enjoyable.
Laurie Graham has been a discovery this year for the strangeness (to me) of her stories and I liked The Importance of Being Kennedy. It’s written in the first person by the Kennedy children’s Irish nurse and the story is mainly about Kathleen. The supporting cast of the entire Kennedy clan is believably described.
Cookie, the latest from Jacqueline Wilson, was a very speedy read, as all her books are. This heroine is plain and plump, has a bullying father, a bimbo but loving mother and an obsession with rabbits which innocently causes family breakdown. As usual with Wilson, the frightening aspects of a child’s life are tempered by at least one sane adult on the scene and the book ends on a hopeful note.