Category Archives: History

Carl Larssongården

It’s probably a fair assumption to make that most Swedes would like to live in Carl Larsson’s home. And of those who don’t, quite a few might not actively object if they ended up there.

I have friends who used to live next door to Carl Larsson’s home, and it was they who gave me this book, by Torsten Gunnarsson and Ulla Eliasson, about his house for my birthday this year.

Sundborn

In a way Swedes don’t need books like these; we seem to be sufficiently familiar with Carl’s home anyway. But the pictures are nice to look at, both the photos of the house and the paintings by Carl. And looking at them we see not only a home that would still be just about perfect to move into, despite it now being more than a hundred years later, but it looks pretty much like some house many of us have known at some point in our lives.

It makes me think of my grandfather’s house, which was nowhere near as big or fancy, and it was more recent, but there is still that Larsson vibe in my memories.

Swedes know the house from countless postcards and Christmas cards, not to mention Christmas wrapping paper. We have all torn pictures of the garden or the Larsson family in our eagerness to see what’s inside our parcel.

At some point I talked to Nick Sharratt about this. Maybe when he heard where I come from, he told me about having slept in Carl’s bed. It appears visiting artists can do that, under some circumstances. When I heard about it I felt this seemed quite reasonable. But I understand the bed was short. Nick isn’t. Oh, well.

The bed is in the book (and somehow I can’t stop wondering what the guest artist does when visitors who’ve paid to see the house turn up.)

As I said, Carl Larsson’s style is never wrong. Except it wasn’t his, but his wife’s. She did all the work, and we still know it by Carl’s name.

Diary of a Provincial Lady

I can so see myself as a provincial bookwitch, diary-writing and coping with a hopeless husband and two child-like children, not to mention my difficult staff!

E M Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

Never having read E M Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady before, I am finding this is exactly my kind of thing. I’ve not quite finished it, as I am wanting to make it last until Christmas, but wanted to tell you that you might need this book, or you could slip it into someone’s stocking.

Because this little volume is so gorgeous and so small and so pale blue (with a most attractive painting of a reclining bookwitch on the dustwrapper), with gold edged pages, and so small (yes, I know I already mentioned this) that it will actually fit in people’s stockings, unlike many other stocking fillers. And I’d not realised it’d be so small, but that just makes it more perfect. It will fit in your pocket, or your small handbag, while still offering nearly 200 pages of diary.

‘Shall she, says Lady B., ring for my car? Refrain from replying that no amount of ringing will bring my car to the door all by itself, and say instead that I walked.’

Now, isn’t that just the kind of thing you’d want to write in a diary? It’s so tiresome to be ‘poor’ and be chased by the bank, when the Lady Bs in your life require you to live above your means.

The one thing that would make reading the diary better, would be an instant knowledge of French; as there is a little too much – that matters – in that language. But then, I suppose in my diary I will have to make a feature of lack of French. And I won’t have three staff, while regularly visiting the pawnbroker.

First published in 1930, you feel you are there.

(There will be 100 books in the Macmillan Collector’s Library. That’s a lot of stocking fillers.)

The First Hunter

First catch your zebra.

By the time you’re twenty pages into Robert Swindells’s The First Hunter for Barrington Stoke, the characters have eaten a piece of stolen zebra, and one of them has been killed by a bear.

Robert Swindells, The First Hunter

I don’t think I’ve read many stories set further into the past than this one. I’m not certain where this group of people lived, but in the illustrations they look African. They have not learned to hunt, so have to live off berries and things, plus what they can steal from the real killers, such as lions.

It’s steal, or be killed. Sometimes both.

The fear and anger they feel when one of their group dies after a close meeting with a bear, means that someone – the group’s ‘idiot’ in fact – begins to think of alternatives.

And that’s how they discover hunting.

This is so informative in a way I’d never even considered.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

If you are looking for a classic Christmas present for a child, look no further. This retelling of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson is rather nice, and with the illustrations by Olivier Latyk, including some intricate card cut-outs, you won’t find anything more beautiful. (Make sure the child isn’t of the destructive kind, though.)

Kochka and Olivier Latyk, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Kochka, who has adapted Selma’s old classic, probably knows the story in French. I say probably, as there is no translator credited, nor is there one for the translation from French into English. (I’m on a translation track here, and would have liked the people who made it all possible to be present.) But apart from that, and a few of the expected misspellings of Swedish place names, it is very nice.

Snowy, even if it doesn’t all happen in snow, but it adds to the Christmassy feel. As a Swede I am also aware of the dangers to geese around this time of year. Watch out, or you are dinner.

Nils is a naughty little boy, but one who is surprisingly fast at recognising what he has to do, once an elf has shrunk him to miniature size. He needs to improve his behaviour and be kinder to all, especially animals, and he needs to help where help is wanted.

To be truthful, I no longer recall how much geography there was in the original, and how much adventure and improvement of Nils. But as Selma wrote the story to assist in teaching children about their country, I’d say the adaptation has mainly lost this part, and probably for the better. Not many small foreign children will want to hear about ancient Swedish landscapes. They will want the adventures, and – perhaps – the story of how one little boy learned a lesson.

My lesson will have to be that I had no idea the geese were given names from the Finnish one to six. But it’s sort of fun to discover now.

This is beautiful fantasy, i.e. perfectly normal stuff for today’s readers. And there is a happy ending for the dinner.

Peter in Peril

Helen Bate’s graphic novel Peter in Peril is different from many other WWII stories. For one, it’s set in Budapest, which is less common, and two, it ends reasonably well for the people we get to know in the book. I’m not saying the war passed them by, exactly, but I was expecting something much worse.

Based on a ‘real’ Peter, who must have been about two when war broke out, we come to the by now so common story of Jews finding their lives changing almost overnight. First is the yellow star to be worn, and later losing their home, having to move into more camp-like places with other Jews, eventually escaping to hide alone.

Helen Bate, Peter in Peril

Because it’s about such a young child, and because we see it from his point of view, perhaps many of the worst things are less obvious. He has time to be bored without his toys, and he seems to find new playmates in the various places where they end up. There is food, even if it’s little and bad.

And as I said, the end is nowhere as immediately tragic as I’d been afraid. That doesn’t mean the war was better for Jews in Hungary, because this is merely the story about one family.

At the end we get to meet Peter as he is today, which is nice and reassuring for a young reader; that he survived and that he leads a normal life.

Helen’s graphic illustrations are just right for this kind of book, and should go down well with quite young readers. Let’s hope, too, that they can see the similarities with what’s happening today in far too many places. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now.

Darkness Follows

And how I wish the third book in L A Weatherlys’ trilogy would hurry up and follow Darkness Follows! I know I say this often, but I feel extremely ready for the conclusion. I’ve no idea how it will all end, but I am quite anxious Lee gets the love interest right (I am available for advice). It could go either way.

I think.

Darkness Follows is as the title suggests darker than Broken Sky, but strangely enough, also lighter. In the midst of all the hardship and cruelty that former Peacefighter pilot Amity suffers in this book, there is promise. At least I hope there is.

L A Weatherly, Darkness Follows

She is in that worst of places, Harmony Five, a mining camp where the guards can, and do, treat the inmates any way they like, including shooting anyone who’s not singing ‘the right way.’

In the first book we couldn’t be totally sure of who was with the Resistance and who wasn’t; it was very much a double bluff kind of feel. Things are ironed out in Darkness Follows. At least I hope they are.

As for Kay Pierce, well. I could see from the start how important she would be and how she would change. I just didn’t see this coming. Very intriguing and exciting.

The way Lee has used a future dystopia for this, rather than try and fit in an alternate WWII, makes the story so much more powerful. The truly bad things have already happened to the world. Or so people believe. And based on past mistakes, the world will now be a better place. But of course, a new world which looks so much like ‘our’ 1940s, can’t help but repeat many of the mistakes too.

This is so good.

Another Light on Dumyat

And by that I mean a brand new edition of Rennie McOwan’s Light on Dumyat, and some extra ‘light’ on the book in the local Waterstones shop window. It’s as it should be, since Rennie is very local and so is his adventure, up in the Ochils, just above town. As I said in my review last year, this is Enid Blyton in Stirling. A bit better written, but not as well known as it deserves to be.

Light on Dumyat at Waterstones

Now is your opportunity to rectify this. If you are near me, you can buy it at Waterstones this week, whereas the rest of you need to wait another week until its general release date.

Rennie McOwan

Because he lives a few streets away, I thought I might occasionally see Rennie out and about, but that honour befell the Resident IT Consultant a few weeks ago when he discovered Mr and Mrs McOwan occupying ‘his’ table at the local library. They chatted a bit about the new Dumyat, and the window launch at Waterstones. (That should teach me for not visiting the library too.)

Rennie has kept ‘a lively interest in the run up to the publication of LOD and was able to mark up page proofs’ for the book. There has been plenty about the new edition in the local press, with one columnist reminiscing about reading Light on Dumyat as a boy. If only we were that young!

Rennie McOwan, Light on Dumyat

I quite like the new cover. It manages to look retro and up-to-date all at once. I prefer the retro, but I can see that in order to attract new readers you need to have something for them to identify with as well.

IMG_4393

(According to the Resident IT Consultant the map in the window is showing the wrong bit of the map… Only he would notice a thing like that!)