Re-reads: Scruples by Judith Krantz

scruples.jpgI read this book for the first time in my late teens, one of the many so-called ‘sex & shopping’ novels that were popular at the time, books by people like Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. Actually, they may still be popular, but I stopped reading them in the 80s.

When I was an ‘innocent’ teenager, the sex in these books might have been the main attraction (there’s one scene in Scruples that has remained with me all these years and, when I re-read it recently, I was surprised to find that I’d lost none of its details), but it was the ‘shopping’ or rather the details of material objects, especially clothes, that was the true draw.Read More »

Re-reads: The Stolen Lake (The Wolves Chronicles) by Joan Aiken

TheStolenLake1
The cover of the first edition published by Jonathan Cape and illustrated by Pat Marriot.

One of my favourite fantasy series is Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. There are twelve books, including a prequel (The Whispering Mountain), with  Dido Twite the protagonist in most of the stories.

After I read Calmgrove‘s post about The Stolen Lake, I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s the fourth book in the main series and my favourite as I find it has the most thrilling and unusual plot. The ever plucky and pragmatic Dido is also especially endearing in this installment. I like her so much and find her optimism and can-do attitude inspiring and cheering. (I want to be Dido when I grow up.)

In this story, Dido is onboard the HMS Thrush, heading back to England. Dido, having escaped death and worse in the previous two books (Blackhearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket), is looking forward to going home and is dismayed when the Thrush is forced to make a detour after the Captain of the ship is summoned by the Queen of New Cumbria (a country in Roman America, Aiken’s alternate history version of South America). Surprisingly, the Queen requests that he bring Dido with him.

stolen lake2
The Houghton Mifflin edition, with cover art by Edward Gorey.

It turns out that Queen Ginevra requires help to get back the country’s ceremonial lake which she claims has been stolen by the King Mabon, ruler of the neighbouring Lyonesse. Even more surprising is that the Queen is apparently more than a thousand years old and is waiting for the return of her husband, King Arthur. Could her longevity be linked to the noticeable absence of female children in New Cumbria?

Dido is soon in the thick of another adventure, this time one involving an imprisoned princess; shape-shifting witches; human sacrifice; cannibalism; and reincarnation.

I’d resolved to re-read less this year in order to make some progress with my TBR list, but I’ve decided to just read whatever I feel like. I will be re-reading Black Hearts in Battersea next.

Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartTHINGS FALL APART

By Chinua Achebe

(Anchor Books, 209 pages)

THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.

Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.

Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.

chinua achebe
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

My partner, Don,  is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.

It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.

The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.

Re-reads: Up the Lone Piners!

They were twins: Pushpa and Prema, unidentical. They were my classmates for a year and a half at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Batu Pahat, Johor.

They introduced me to Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Adventure series and lent me Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, before I got my own copies. Until I met them, I had no idea there were other books besides Little House on the Prairie. I tried to get them to read Anne of Green Gables, but they weren’t interested.

I think about them from time to time, and today because I have been re-reading the few Lone Pine books I own. I was very taken with them at eleven or twelve, and obviously am still fond of them now, at nearly fifty, but I admit I feel mostly morbid fascination these days, and wonder if, after this read, I should send them on their way.

I know when I was a pre-teen, I liked the hint of romance between the two ‘couples’ Jonathan and Penny, and David and Petronella (Peter). Penny the redhead was my favourite and I was jealous, on her behalf, of golden-haired, angel-faced Peter. I used to re-write scenes from the books, and in  version of the stories, both Jonathan and David vied for Penny’s affections. Poor Peter didn’t care much. She had her pony Sally (much better than either of the boys – I see that now).

With this re-read I am finding Penny insufferable, although she is still much more bearable than the twins, Dickie and Mary, whom I have never been able to stomach.

rye-royal

I have now re-read Saucers Over the Moon and The Gay Dolphin Adventure, and am currently re-reading The Secret of Grey Walls. I wish I had a copy of Rye Royal, which I think I’ve read before because I can remember the cover really clearly (when I was twelve there was no internet so I would not have seen it online). However, I can’t remember the story. By the way, don’t you think that cover could be used for a Mills & Boon romance novel? The way Saville dwells on the relationship between Penny and Jonathan (and Peter and David), I’m sure he wanted to write romances.

Reading Plans for 2017

I read sixty three books in 2016, including many re-reads (Antonia Forest, Barbara Pym, Enid Blyton). I hope for more time to read this year. That is my dearest reading wish.

I would also like to read work by the following authors: Flora Nwapa; Octavia Butler; Nisi Shawl; Erin Bow; Rainbow Rowell; Dudu Busani Dube.

I would like to re-read Megan Whalen Turner; Susan Cooper; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Those are my plans for now.