Thursday 10 July 2008

Soft amongst the macabre

A couple of review books I've been meaning to write about, with very little in common except that I want to write about them together. These sorts of posts always remind about my favourite tutor, Emma, who had my friend Chris and me in joint tutorials. We'd often written on completely different texts with completely different topics and themes - and Emma would valiantly spend the tutorial trying to draw out unifying points from the two. Should be fun.

The first is Alternative Medicine by Laura Solomon, a collection of short stories published by Flame Books. They also published The Bestowing Sun by Neil Grimmett (which I wrote about here) and Tru by Eric (which I wrote about here). I was so impressed by these two novels that I had to read more from the publishing house. Perhaps I'd set myself up for a fall - while I enjoyed and admired Alternative Medicine, it has a very different feel to it. Those novels were at the forefront of emotional, real modern literature, exploring relationships between families and the elasticity of feelings - Laura Solomon is doing something quite different.

It's always difficult to summarise a collection of short stories, and it's illuminating to see what the writer of the blurb has chosen to represent Alternative Medicine: 'A couple is torn apart by a renegade duvet, an upstaged Santa takes revenge on his rival, a girl's father is abducted by aliens, a man is relentlessly bullied by his sister on their annual holiday, a manufactured genius turns out to be not so perfect after all'. The next paragraph talks abut the 'entertaining and insightful journey into the shortcomings of being human, and the wonder of our graces'; 'masterful central metaphors, sharp wit, and a beautiful simplcity'. For me, the title to today's post says it all for a theme - 'soft amongst the macabre'. I read each story with foreboding, expecting something strange or grotesque at every corner - to inject the writing with this menace is quite a talent - but alongside this was a soft, sensitive understanding of the characters and their motivations.

The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill appear
ed on more or less every blog known to man a few months ago, but I've only just finished it. It's my first book by Susan Hill, in fact, though I've read thousands of her words in the form of her blog. It is inevitable that any children's book now will be compared to Harry Potter, so I'm just going to use the words and get on with what I was talking about. The plot is probably familiar to you all, if not, pop over to Amazon (this must be the laziest reviewing ever!) I read The Battle for Gullywith in three bouts, and was thus rather confused at times, but that's my fault rather than the book's. I think it's probably a book one has to come to as a child to truly love - I found it an enjoyable romp, with amusing, slightly predictable characters, some inventive plot aspects, and the most ingenious use of tortoises I've ever encountered. A few too many topical references to feel timeless, but enough good old-fashioned adventure to beguile a child who has exhausted JK Rowling and Enid Blyton. Say what you like about those authors, but I don't think a child can do much better than them.

1 comment:

  1. The "worst" classic book was for me one of my A level set books; Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott. Vast tracts of this consisted of cod Scots dialogue issuing from a charmless hag called Meg Merrilees. If anyone can find any virtue in this book I'd like to hear about it. (I think she's come back to haunt me: the word verification looks like more cod Scots!)


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