Friday, December 28, 2007

Three Bewitching Tales

Over the last few weeks, I've enjoyed three great books (all British, of course), ideal for winter/Christmas. Here's a brief summary of each.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield: I've wanted to read this ever since it came out but library copies were always checked out. At last I gleefully found a used paperback in a secondhand store down a little alley in Portsmouth. Whereas Setterfield's words are not especially artful, she tells a killer tale. This deliciously gothic yarn is strongly reminiscent of Wurthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca. The protagonist is hired to write a secretive author's memoirs, which feature a ghostly English manor house, family scandals, murder, mystery, and most importantly...twins.

Carbonel, The King of Cats, by Barbara Sleigh: This is the first of two books Chris gave me which are from the same collection as Box of Delights. In Carbonel, young Rosemary befriends a cat, with whom she can talk as long as she's holding a magic broom. Rosemary and her friend John endeavor to break the spell enchanting Carbonel. It's a charming story with an especially amusing chapter spiriting antique china out of a museum and into a public tearoom. Like Box of Delights, it's best moments feature clever children left to their own devices.

Uncle, by J.P. Martin: Also from the New York Review Children's Collection, Uncle is a hilarious, quirky tale of a millionaire elephant, his diverse followers, and his scruffy, malicious neighbors. Each chapter, although part of the story as a whole, is well-contained and the ideal length for a bedtime story. Of the long list of characters, my favorites are The Muncle (The Old Monkey's uncle who is obsessed with shoes), The Maestro (who often goes into a passion and throws himself out windows), The Little Lion (who, when feeling contrary, makes himself heavy and thereby impossible to move), and Noddy Ninety (an old man, mad about cricket, who dresses up as a schoolboy and sneaks into school to cause trouble).

The prime result of reading Uncle is one's excursion into the mind and personality of the author, J.P. Martin, a rambunctious Yorkshire minister who made up these stories for his children. I actually read the introduction (written by Martin's grandson) about the author's life twice because I found him so delightful. As the icing on the cake, the book is packed with illustrations by Quentin Blake (who illustrated Roald Dahl's similarly peculiar and hilarious children's stories).

1 comment:

Uncle said...

Dear Ms Watoosa,

I am so glad that you enjoyed the first volume of my biography. I think that Mister Martin did an admirable job in chronicling my life story.

I notice that you also enjoyed "The Box of Delights" - have you seen the BBC production of this fine book?

Best Wishes