And the last late reviews from February of 2013.
This edition: New York Review Books, 2003. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-590170-489. 336 pages.
My rating: 8/10
A collection of twenty-seven delicately written fairy tales. Aimed at the younger crowd, but possibly more suited to real appreciation by adults. A few are slight, gentle and – in the very best sense of the word - childish, but others are rich in their imagery and complexity. The stories were selected by Eleanor Farjeon herself, and are deliciously and perfectly illustrated by the one and only Edward Ardizzone. Rumer Godden’s Afterword is a lovingly worded compliment to the author.
My own pretty well grown children are sadly long past the stage of being read to, but I am keeping this one close by both for personal pleasure and perhaps to one day share with as yet theoretical grandchildren.
This edition: Viking Press, 1969. Hardcover. 189 pages.
My rating: 6/10
Doris Gates is perhaps best known for her Newbery Award runner-up children’s novel Blue Willow, as well as the widely read Little Vic, both viewed as important early examples of “realistic problem fiction” for young readers, not a genre I am particularly fond of as a rule, but which is perfectly acceptable when the characters and their story are over-emphasized over the “problem”. Doris Gates gets a pass; these are “real” novels no matter how they’re categorized.
Sensible Kate was Gates’ third novel, and it is a pleasant example of children’s literature of its era, with the young heroine facing her rather daunting challenges with good expectations of positive outcomes. The Kate of the novel is a likeable girl, flawed enough to be realistic, but with a solid core of goodness which makes her most appealing.
Kate has been an orphan as long as she can remember, and has been cared for by various “shiftless” relatives since babyhood. Now the relatives have decided to move out of the state, and they have decided to turn Kate over to the county relief office. Kate is placed as a foster child with an elderly couple, The Tuttles, and she soon makes herself beloved of them and many others whom she meets, including a young married couple, both artists, who are the very reverse of sensible in their daily affairs, and who are most appreciative of Kate’s practical talents.
A sweet but never saccharine story, with some interesting characters and scenarios which lift it a little over the average for its vintage and genre. Possibly one might pick up on the lightest shade of Anne of Green Gables, what with the red-haired heroine being an orphan and going off to live with an elderly couple, but the parallel ends right there. Kate is most certainly no Anne, and her creator has not attempted to model her so.
This edition: Penguin, 1983. Paperback. ISBN: 0-14-006741-8. 356 pages.
My rating: 6.5/10
A rather unusual book, a noir almost-thriller with some odd twists, including a subplot involving a teenage girl’s abortion. Despite its date of publication, it seems to be set in the 1950s, and has a decidedly vintage feel to it. This is the first Patricia Highsmith book I’ve ever read, though I’ve seen several of the movie adaptations of her work, Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and of course the Venetian-set Talented Mr. Ripley, so the dark psychological elements in this one came as no surprise.
Here we have a normal middle-class family, the Aldermans, with an insurance-salesman father, stay-at-home mother volunteering a few days a week at a children’s hospital, and teenagers Arthur and younger Robbie. Arthur is getting ready to go to college, has a satisfactorily active love life, and he is poised to get on with his life when his whole world takes a sickening lurch.
Robbie falls ill with a mysterious infection and is suddenly on the verge of death. The doctors turn away in dismissal – the boy is going to die – but Mr. Armstrong refuses to give up hope, and prays diligently to God for a miracle. Robbie recovers, and the previously un-religious father is so moved by the experience that he embraces religion and joins a highly evangelistic Christian sect. Mrs. Armstrong and Arthur view this at first with mildly perturbed eyes, but Robbie fully embraces his father’s new-found faith, with eventual horrifying consequences.
A can’t-look-away, exceedingly uncomfortable depiction of a dysfunctional family and its twisted disintegration, with none of the characters completely faultless, including our pseudo-hero Arthur, the closest thing to a chief protagonist in this tense tale.
The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih ~ 1968
This edition: New York Review Books, 2009. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-59017-342-8. 120 pages.
My rating: 7/10
Two short stories and a short novella – the title story – by the late Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, set in the country around the northern Nile .
The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid speaks to the importance of tradition, and to the quiet resistance of the people of the Sudanese country to outside influences.
A Handful of Dates concerns a young boy who becomes aware for the first time of the realities of rich and poor, and the role his grandfather has played in a neighbour losing his inheritance.
The Wedding of Zein concerns an unlikely hero, a physically deformed “village idiot” (for want of a better term), who insistently falls in love with one after another village maiden, only to be disappointed as they always marry someone else. Imagine then the shock of everyone when it is announced that Zein has at last found a prospective wife, and an unexpectedly wise and beautiful one at that.
This book gives a diverting glimpse into an unfamiliar world, and the stories are told with clarity and understated, rather sly humour. A short but worthwhile collection.