Category Archives: History

Jane Eyre

It was good to revisit Jane Eyre after all these years. Barrington Stoke have just published a dyslexia friendly, short, retelling of the famous Charlotte Brontë novel. Tanya Landman has written a more than creditable short version, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

Tanya Landman (Charlotte Brontë), Jane Eyre

I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to make such a long novel into a short one; one that actually works. I’m certain it was neither quick nor easy, but the result is a perfect literary summary of an old classic.

Tanya’s version contains most of what I remembered, skipping over one or two sub-plots with just a few paragraphs (which is obviously how one does it) to get on with that which matters. The only major fact missing is Jane’s inheritance, but in the long run it’s not massively important.

She can still marry Mr Rochester and live happily ever after. (I hope this doesn’t count as a spoiler..?)

A classic has to be one of the hardest things to access if reading is difficult. I guess watching the film is the nearest, but won’t give so much flavour of the real deal. That’s what you get in something like this Jane Eyre.

I hope the book will be a happy discovery for many. Jane is still a most interesting heroine.

The Good Thieves

‘What do you think of Katherine Rundell?’ I was asked in an email, chatting to one of ‘my’ authors, some time last year. My response was that I didn’t think, really, as I’d not read any of her books, but that her new one, The Good Thieves, looked very promising. Except I’d not been sent a copy, and when I checked in the shops it was a hardback and a bit pricey.

Katherine Rundell, The Good Thieves

But I had gathered that Katherine Rundell is an author of interest in the business. So she and her book went on my Christmas wish list, and here we are. (Father Christmas took pity on me.) I’ve had a most enjoyable read of this children’s ‘light crime’ novel, set in New York in the 1920s. It’s not just the cover that is gorgeous.

The pace is slow to begin with, detailing the arrival in New York of Vita and her mother, on a journey of mercy to rescue her bereaved grandfather. But she has plans, and accidentally coming across three unusually talented children, she plans another kind of rescue than the one her mother is working on, with lawyers, etc.

Vita wants to restore her grandfather’s lost castle to him, and throws herself and her three new accomplices into a minor war with a mafia style group of vicious men. They may be powerful and cruel, but they’ve not counted on Vita, or Silk, Arkady and Samuel. Each has very useful skills.

The plot as such isn’t necessarily all that original. What makes The Good Thieves such a special tale is the way this plot is executed. There are little surprises here and there, and there is so much warmth, and courage.

I’d have been quite happy for the book to be longer. But on the other hand I wouldn’t have wanted to inflict more pain and injury on our young heroes. And I suppose I can always run away and join a circus.

(My thoughts on Katherine Rundell are that she’s a very good thing. I might have a need to read more of her books.)

The Lammisters

I suspect Declan Burke’s new novel would make a good film. In fact, I have no way of knowing that it’s not already happening. Set in Hollywood, slightly under a hundred years ago, it would be appropriate. And I do enjoy humorous films.

The Lammisters is completely different from Declan’s other crime novels, which – mostly – take place in Ireland, featuring inept and sometimes bad characters, but usually also very funny ones. If they talk too much, it’s because they are Irish.*

Here, though, is a narrator who uses a lot of words. Long words. Fancy words. Complicated sentences. Footnotes. That sort of thing.

Not being as well read – or educated – as the Guardian’s Laura Wilson, I don’t know Laurence Sterne, although I have heard of him. I gather it is his style that Declan has gone for. The review in the Guardian was very positive, which is well deserved. To my mind, all his books ought to have got a mention there.

It’s a period I like a lot, and coincidentally it’s the second of two crime novels set in that period that I had lined up over Christmas; one on each side of the US. (More about that tomorrow.) And the cover is fabulous.

Declan Burke, The Lammisters

* Apologies for the stereotyping…

Little Women

I was about eleven, maybe twelve, and I thought it was a stupid title. Unga Kvinnor it was called in Swedish. But it was a gift – most likely from the Retired Children’s Librarian – and in those days I combed the shelves at home for possible books to read, so I read it. Despite the title.

It didn’t take many pages before I was hooked and I loved it and I read everything about the March girls, like generations of other young females.

Little Women

We went to see the film this weekend and on the way home Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant ‘fought’ over who’d get to read it first. It’s probably a reflection on them having enjoyed the film… As did I. The director, Greta Gerwig, is quite possibly a genius.

Starting at the end made a tremendous difference. If nothing else, it created a sort of Schrödinger’s Beth; you never knew whether she was still alive, or not. At times it was a little hard to be sure where in the story we were, although the length of Jo’s hair helped.

I hope lots of young readers will see this film, and not just us oldies who know what to expect. I hope it means they will read the book, and that it will change many lives. Apart from my early dislike of the title, I grew up at a time when classics got the attention they deserve. Now, I suspect most younger readers stick with new fiction [because there is so much of it]. Emma Watson has helped, by hiding/leaving copies of the book in London, as well as thousands across the UK as a whole.

Find it, read it, and leave it for someone else to discover.

Louisa May Alcott, Unga kvinnor

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Vikings in Wexford

I’m a bit late to this, but found Eoin Colfer’s column for the Guardian on where he’s from (Wexford) such fun that I just have to force the link on you.

And I didn’t know about this, despite two interviews and countless encounters and conversations. Just goes to show you need to know to ask the right questions.

Also just goes to show how almost anything can set the imagination rolling, be it the Viking [Bookwitch] village underneath Wexford, or Philip Ardagh’s beard (for which there is no explanation and I will assume Eoin was merely being polite…).

Suffice to say, Eoin’s Dad sounds like a great father, and I’m very pleased to discover that there is in fact a requirement for all Irish writers to write a fairy book. It’s only right.

I also understand the issues between the Lower Elements and the humans far far better now. Bring on The Fowl Twins!

Emma

‘Awesomely Austen.’ ‘Witty words by Katy Birchall.’ Those are book cover quotes to make my heart sink a little. Surely you can sell a shorter, rewritten version of one of Jane Austen’s novels more seriously?

Despite approving of Daughter’s long ago short Brontës, I wasn’t sure. I asked the Resident IT Consultant. Together we arrived at the conclusion that it’s fine. Anything that gets younger readers read a classic is fine.

So here you have Katy Birchall’s Austen Emma in 210 pages, with ‘delightful doodles’ by Églantine Ceulemans. It’s a pretty volume, and I’d say it covers what you need from Emma, when you’re eight or ten. After all, it’s a book about adults. It needs to be made more accessible.

I just hope the reader doesn’t then go on to consider themselves as having read Jane Austen. I hope that one day he or she will discover, much to their delight, that there is a longer version of Emma.

Along with this Emma, there is a new Pride and Prejudice and a Persuasion, by Katherine Woodfine and Narinder Dhami respectively, with the remaining three novels to follow.

Awesomely Austen