Five Children and It, E Nesbit
Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
Five Children on the Western Front, Kate Saunders
To All Appearance, Dead, Liz Filleul
The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot , Rebecca Mead
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings, Catriona McPherson
Man at the Helm, Nina Stibbe
Silver, Andrew Motion
The State We’re In, Adele Parks
Several Sherlock Holmes stories on Kindle
The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth Peters
The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café, Alexander McCall Smith
Last month I read two books which are continuations of very famous ones. Regular readers will know that I’m usually sniffy about this sort of thing, muttering crossly that authors should invent their own characters, not go nicking existing ones. I really enjoyed Kate Saunders’ Beswitched, so I was looking forward to reading Five Children on the Western Front. The book has been critically acclaimed and won the Costa prize for best children’s book of the year. I was very surprised by the bitterness with which it was attacked in certain quarters (some of my readers will know the quarters I mean). It didn’t sound like Nesbit. The character of the Psammead was changed. So wot? is my response. I wouldn’t have wanted to read something that was exactly ‘like’ Nesbit; I’d rather read Nesbit again. As for Sammy, why shouldn’t his character develop? I felt that Nesbit’s characters had grown up as one might have expected. Goodness, children are offered strong meat these days. The ending is heartbreaking. I’d never even heard of Andrew Motion’s Silver until I saw it at the library. It’s a continuation of Treasure Island, in which Jim Hawkins’ son and Long John Silver’s daughter return to the island in search of the treasure which was left behind. It’s rather well done, and well written but I couldn’t really see the point and disliked the ending. Of the two books, I preferred Saunders’.
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby is a very clever book. Writing about the sixties, he doesn’t make the too-common error of assuming that the whole country was swinging merrily; he knows that Blackpool didn’t swing like London. Blackpool is where the heroine, Sophie, hails from. She’s a drop dead gorgeous girl who’s dissatisfied with her life. After winning the Miss Blackpool crown, she rejects it and seeks better things in London, where her looks and wit win her a part in what becomes a very popular sitcom. I found it hard to credit that she didn’t know who the Yardbirds were or where the trendy people shopped. She could have read Honey magazine, Nick. Much of the book is about scriptwriting and broadcasting at the time and that is totally convincing.
I haven’t that much to say about the other books I read. Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm was rather disappointing. Naturally one likes to read more about the Starkadders but the other stories in the book are of very mixed quality. There was one I enjoyed, about a murder. In his introduction, Alexander McCall Smith opines that Stella Gibbons was not such a good writer as Barbara Pym. Humph, is all I say to that. While on the subject of AMS, I nearly abandoned The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café after the first page because there he describes Mr J L B Matekoni as a garagiste, which he isn’t, in the sense in which the word is commonly used. Unless this is some subtle joke I’m not getting. Of course I did read it, because I love Mma Ramotswe and the rest.
The Curse of the Pharaohs is the second Amelia Peabody book and just as good as the first. She’s a terrific character. I’d gone off Dandy Gilver but, library again, saw a spanking new copy of Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings and really enjoyed it. I love Alec. More murder in To All Appearance, Dead. Do read this if you like school stories, as it’s about murder at a conference on that very subject. Unfortunately it’s slightly out of date now; all those EJOs and EBDs are not worth as much money as they used to be. Amazon Prime members can borrow it, free.
Another free book: The State We’re In, my January free Kindle book and the first I’d read by popular Adele Parks (there wasn’t much choice). This love story comes with a publisher’s warning at the beginning that it will make you cry and ends with a plea not to give away the ending to anybody. The plot could be summed up by the first line of Larkin’s This be the Verse. Man at the Helm was disappointing after Love, Nina, as I find it hard to see the funny side of a family of children left with a useless mother. I mean the kind who never feeds them, drinks too much and doesn’t do their laundry. When father walks out, the abandoned ones move to a nice house in the country, where they find themselves unpopular because their mother is divorced. Mother can’t cope and the children are terrified of being put into care. They decide that the answer is a man for mum and draw up a Man List of suitable candidates. Needless to say, some of them are very unsuitable. I did like Little Jack’s contribution to the list. His candidate should have an interest in ‘owls and the Romans.’ Ha ha! Sherlock Holmes I re-read because I’d been indulging in a Sherlock fest. It gets better with every viewing.
gratuitous pic, from BBC