Archive for March 3rd, 2014

March 3, 2014

February Reading

I was on holiday for part of last month, and reading Swallows and Amazons things for the rest of it.


Kate diCamillo, Flora and Ulysses: Gorgeous, funny, some reservations about evil, squirrel-murdering mothers (and also about texts that go back on the “evil” bit and decide that attempted pet-murder is excusable) and romance novel hating. But so good.

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Janie of La Rochelle, Janie Steps In: Hm. Based on just these two (I’ve not read the whole series) I suspect the La Rochelle books are better on character and also romance than the main Chalets. I may not be setting a very high bar here, but there’s the bit in JoLR where Janie refuses to give a young man a picture of her friend without said friend’s permission, or the bit in JSI where she advises Nan not to get engaged till she’s met many more men than she already has. Also the messy Chester family dynamics, where parental character flaws fucking up children is seen as a thing that happens sometimes, and no one has to be particularly evil or misguided, and people end up hurt. I’m still unclear on who the minor characters in this series are; at some point I must find and read the other books.

Georgette Heyer, The Toll-Gate: Tall people fall in love, and this is good because there aren’t any other people tall enough for them. Also bank robbery and murder happen. It isn’t Heyer’s best.

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Winter Holiday, Secret Water, Pigeon Post, Peter Duck: I’m always a bit surprised by people dismissing this particular series as Middle Class Children Have Adventures books of the Blyton variety. I mean, sure, all those things are true and it’s important to keep pointing that out, but they’re also stylistically interesting, experimental in ways that very few books quite manage (the closest comparison I can come to for their interplay between the fictional and the real is William Mayne’s The Grass Rope) and in general quite amazing.

P.G. Wodehouse, Service With a Smile, The Small Bachelor, Summer Lightning: I was at Delhi airport and I had a certain sum in rupees on me and a departure gate to get to in five minutes and so I bought three P.G. Wodehouses and read two of them on the plane. As you do. I was happier for it.

James Smythe, The Machine: This is great, I love all its references to Frankenstein, and the ways in which the sense of menace ebbs and flows at first, and then builds up … I’m not sure praising a book for its pacing and its completely unsubtle use of its intertexts is quite as impressive-sounding as I’d like it to be, but I did really like this.

Rakesh Khanna and Rashmi Ruth Devadasan (ed), The Obliterary Journal Vol. 2: Non-Veg: See here.

Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding: School (particularly boarding school)-set murders are a thing I love very much. And so this, which I also loved very much.

Nicholas Blake, A Question of Proof: Completely different school murder. The first Strangeways book, and before the character is quite as established as he feels in the later books; he also feels younger. Random mental illness-related awfulness, in an of-its-time way that would be quaint if not for its being awful. But Strangeways! Not being awful to women! Solving crime! Chalking moustaches onto statues! 

Sarra Manning, It Felt Like a Kiss, Unsticky: I read the first of these, then because it had the protagonists from Unsticky as minor characters I read that too. Manning continues to give most of her heroes first names for surnames (Unsticky‘s Vaughn does have a reasonable first name but no one calls him it). This time it’s “Curtis”, which is at least better than Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend‘s “Wilson”. Enjoyable, though it was no You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.

Courtney Milan, A Novella Collection: A thing which allowed me to complete my Brothers Sinister reread for this post, and also read a couple of other novellas. 

Mhairi Macfarlane, Here’s Looking At You: I’m sure I had more profound thoughts when I was actually reading this book. I enjoyed it, anyway.

Clara Benson, The Murder at Sissingham Hall: Apparently Benson’s Angela Marchmont books were found and published after her death in 1965, but were presumably written much earlier. Which might explain why this felt so Victorian–in narration, in characterisation, and certainly in the fact that the protagonists don’t seem ever to have read a detective story. 

Christianna Brand, Suddenly At His ResidenceThis was oddly dissonant in some ways–things didn’t feel like they had the import they ought to, or felt like they mattered to much, and this gave the whole thing an air of unreality that I don’t think was caused entirely by its being set in a very different time to my own. I think I’d like to read more Brand. I’m also, in connection with Mhairi Macfarlane’s first book, now pondering the logistics of literary home wrecking.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Unforgotten Coat: This does so many things I like; it’s all mixed-media and memory is complex and identity is complex and familiar places can be made alien and afternoons when you’re a child turn into hazy, semi-enchanted, impossible places, and then its treatment of the two Mongolian refugee children who move the plot and disappear … concerned me. It’s a book that might be saying (and undercutting) a lot of things about the portrayal of people from a culture other than one’s own. But I read it as part of an academic reading group and the other brown person in the room also found it uncomfortable, whatever it may have been trying to achieve. It’s also a book whose author explains in the afterword that it was based on a school visit to a class which contained a Mongolian girl, who totally lit up the classroom, and of whom the rest of the children were really proud. As if she were a mascot or the class pet or something–it’s tremendously well-meaning and ill-judged and (I’ve been the only brown kid in a otherwise white primary school class) made me a bit nauseous. The afterword makes me wonder if all the clever things I see in the text itself are things I’m reading into it. I don’t know.