March Reading

 

Arthur Ransome, Missee Lee, The Picts and the Martyrs, Great Northern?: These were the Ransome books I hadn’t read, apart from a quick skim of Missee Lee some years ago. A thing I’ve been discovering over the past couple of months is how little serious Ransome criticism there is; and that little is generally more interested in the early Lake District books. But there’s something about these three later books, and I feel like I may end up as the lone voice in the wilderness championing Great Northern? in particular. I spoke last month about how impressed I am by this series, and that sense has only intensified.

Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki: I had hopes for this, brought on by that amazing cover (seriously, illustrating this post with that cover even though these reading round-up posts are never illustrated, because pretty), by the fact that I admire Harris’s writing (and approve of her being a Mervyn Peake fan) and by the narrative possibilities of a revisionist retelling with Loki as narrator. Plus, at a signing/talk by Harris she said that she imagined her Loki being played by someone like Paul Bettany. So it’s a pity the book itself felt so thoroughly unambitious. I’m reviewing it, and a longer piece about it will be on this blog at some point.

L.M. Montgomery, [all the Anne books]: Except the one about the Blythes that was published only quite recently. I needed to reread the first book for a discussion at university, and fell into the series as a result. A piece on Rilla of Ingleside, here.

Angela Thirkell, High Rising: I wrote about this here.

Katherine Hull and Pamela Whitlock, The Far Distant Oxus: Apparently Hull and Whitlock were friends in school who decided to write a novel in alternating chapters, sent it to Arthur Ransome, and he loved it. It’s great– it does for its landscape what the Ransome books do for the Lake District, it’s a lot rougher around the edges in terms of plot and style; it’s tempting to think of it as really compelling fanfiction, and yet. The characters come across far more strongly as people, and there’s an undercurrent of sexual attraction that runs through it that makes it somehow nothing like Ransome’s work.

Gladys Mitchell, Tom Brown’s Body: Boarding school story murder mysteries are a genre that feels like it was made for me, so I was always going too enjoy this one. One of the things you see quite a lot of in school stories of this time is Asian and African upper-class students attending the same boarding schools as upper-class Europeans (as of course did happen quite frequently)–think of Hurree Jamset Ram Singh in the Billy Bunter stories, for example. The school in Mitchell’s book has an ‘African prince’ named Takhobali (helpfully named “tar baby” by his peers, because there’s a pleasant phrase to read). It was interesting to read this at the same time as Missee Lee, because Miss Lee is another wealthy colonial child sent to English boarding school for her education. And both characters embrace English boarding school life and the assumption that this is great culture; Miss Lee plays hockey and lacrosse, learns Latin, has fixed opinions about marmalade*, but being Chinese (hilarious!) she cannot pronounce her “r”s. Takhobali eats fish pie even when it makes him sick and learns to play rugby but (hilarious!) cannot overcome his barbaric roots and bites people when he’s tackling them. Neither of these things are in fact hilarious.

Ytasha L. Womack, Afrofuturism: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how genre histories are constructed and reinforced and what they exclude, and of the necessity of alternate canons and alternate histories, a result of both my own reading and some of Jonathan McCalmont’s Future Interrupted columns. Afrofuturism is engaged in a similar project, I think. I don’t think Womack is trying to create a definitive text on the subject, I’m sure (knowing nothing at all about the subject) that there’s a lot left out that I’ve missed, and I’d have loved to see a deeper analysis of certain particular examples of Afrofuturism that she chooses–but to ask that this collection be both wider and deeper is to ask for more than a single book could do. But what a single book can’t do a wider intellectual tradition can, and Womack’s book both gestures towards the conversation that already exists and consolidates enough of it to make for an entry point. Sofia Samatar describes it as a “primer” to the field; I think that’s exactly what makes it most valuable. I really enjoyed this, and nominated it for a “Best Related” Hugo award. I hope it makes it to the shortlist, at least.

Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones: The Islands of Chaldea: I’ll be writing about this elsewhere. Enjoyable, and solid, and a satisfying end to DWJ’s career, but not great. Which is probably for the best, in some ways.

Athena Andreadis (ed), The Other Half of the Sky: A big part of my reading this month was dictated by things I wanted to read and think about before the Hugo Awards nomination deadline. I’d been wanting to get around to this anthology for a while; it had some impressive names in the TOC. To the anthology as a whole my reaction was mixed, but there are some good stories, and one of them (Vandana Singh’s “Sailing the Antarsa”) was one of the best things I’ve read so far this year.

Djibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes (ed), We See A Different Frontier: This anthology I loved, even though some of the stories felt considerably weaker than others. I think I’ve said elsewhere that while I understand intellectually the importance of seeing oneself represented, I rarely feel deeply moved by it when I am. WSaDF did something better; I hadn’t realised that a collection of stories working around issues that I think about a lot would feel as invigorating as it did.

2 Responses to “March Reading”

  1. You know, I have to say I love Missee Lee, despite the accents, because Miss Lee is so real and her dilemma, although it sounds ridiculous, ends up being quite heartbreaking. It always gets me when she gives the children her Horace at the end.

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