Archive for the ‘Books About Books’ Category

a reading diary alberto manguelA Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel ~ 2004. This edition: Knopf, 2004. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-676-97590-9. 253 pages.

My rating: After a certain amount of consideration, 7.5/10.

Now this is a book about books which I would be happy to have on the keeper shelf. It caught my eye during a library browse, and, after standing in the aisle and reading most of the entry regarding Kipling’s Kim, I decided it was worth an even deeper investigation. I was not disappointed.

Alberto Manguel is an Argentine-born writer, anthologist, editor, and translator. He spent his early years in Israel, where his father served as the Argentine ambassador, then back to Argentina, and, once his schooling was completed, working and living in England, France and Tahiti. He moved to Canada in 1982, eventually acquiring Canadian citizenship, though he continues to travel widely, and also maintains a home in rural France.

A Reading Diary is a vanity project of sorts, but a worthwhile one. It consists of the jottings kept over the course of a year as Manguel rereads some of his most treasured books.

It occurred to me that, rereading a book a month, I might complete, in a year, something between a personal diary and a commonplace book: a volume of notes, reflections, impressions of travel, sketches of friends, of events public and private, all elicited by my reading. I made a list of what the chosen books would be. It seemed important, for the sake of balance, that there should be a little of everything. (Since I’m nothing if not an eclectic reader, this wasn’t too difficult to accomplish.)

What has resulted is a book rich with references both everyday and arcane, from the note that the cat is nestled in a towel-lined box looking out at the rain, to the mention of the death of a friend and a reflection on the transience of all things dear to us, to the sombre discussion of the tragedy of the World Trade Centre destruction only a few years earlier, and the subsequent war in Iraq, to warm memories of golden childhood hours spent reading some of the same books that feature in this Diary.

The books chosen are:

  • June ~ The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
  • July ~ The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
  • August ~ Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • September ~ Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by François-René de Chateaubriand
  • October ~ The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • November ~ Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • December ~ The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • January ~ Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  • February ~ The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
  • March ~ The Pillow-Book by Sei Shonagon
  • April ~ Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
  • May ~ The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Having only read a few of the books on the list – The Island of Dr. Moreau, Kim, The Sign of Four, The Wind in the Willows, and Don Quixote –  I wondered if I would be completely lost trying to read the chapters concerning the ones new to me, several of which I had never heard of before. As it turned out, this was not at all the case. A Reading Diary is not about the books as much as it is about the thoughts and connections they trigger. Manguel has such a broad experience and so much to say that everything he comes up with is fascinating even though one strains to fit it into the context of a book one hasn’t read.

Open this book up anywhere at random and perfectly crafted snippets of prose rise from the page. Here are some completely random samples.

Perhaps, in order for a book to attract us, it must establish between our experience and that of the fiction – between the two imaginations, ours and that on the page – a link of coincidences.

A brilliant touch: the woman who stains Kim’s skin to darken his colour “for protection” in the great Game (thereby changing his outer identity) is blind.

Contentment requires a certain lack of curiousity.

I feel uncomfortable having other people’s books at home. I want either to steal them or to return them immediately. There is something of the visitor who outstays his welcome in borrowed books. Reading them and knowing that they don’t belong to me gives me the feeling of something unfinished, half-enjoyed. This is also true of library books.

Brilliant sunshine, crisp cold. My neighbour comes over with a gift of fresh eggs and stays for twenty minutes discussing the conflict in Iraq. How strange for an Iraqi farmer half a world away, if he were to know that his fate is the subject of conversation here, in a small, almost invisible French village.

A few days after the tragedy, I heard of someone who had been trapped that morning inside a bookstore close to the World Trade Center. Since there was nothing to do but wait for the dust to settle, he kept on browsing through the books, in the midst of the sirens and the screams. Chateaubriand notes that, during the chaos of the French Revolution, a Breton poet just arrived in Paris asked to be taken on a tour of Versailles. “There are people,” Chateaubriand comments, “who, while empires collapse, visit fountains and gardens.”

My only disappointment, and the reason the book lost a few points with me, is the degree to which Alberto Manguel magnificently name-drops and occasionally pontificates on how dismally uneducated the hoi polloi is compared to him and his intellectually elite cronies. As he makes little effort to pander to those of a less broad experience, I think he might also have left out the occasional thinly veiled sneering. The book will ultimately find its own audience, though its readers may not all be quite what Manguel expects. I must admit my own feelings were bruised by a comment (which I did not bookmark and now, quickly browsing, cannot find) regarding the ignorance of those who only read in English. That would certainly be me, and how many others?

This one complaint aside, A Reading Diary is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a deeply intellectual book lover, and a prolific and eclectic writer and reader.

Read Full Post »

judging book by its lover lauren letoJudging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto ~ 2012. This edition: Harper, 2012. Softcover. ISBN: 978-0-06-207014-2. 269 pages.

My rating: 4/10.

Quick verdict: Glad I didn’t buy this. Mildly diverting, but not a keeper.

The author is (apparently) a popular blogger. Fair enough. The chapters would indeed make fine blog posts. Read ’em and forget ’em. (Not that I would extend that attitude to those of you, my marvelous readers, who are also fellow bloggers. No, no, no! But blog posts are, by the very nature of the venue, rather in-the-moment, are they not?)

*****

I was going to condemn this novelty project by calling it pure fluff or something equally dismissive, but fellow-reader compassion for the author, an undoubted book lover, stays my hand. I’m mostly just glad I got this one from the library. It was mildly humorous in a pleasantly snarky way and I did frequently smile. Some sweetly tart anecdotes about a childhood of reading and a gentle ode to her book-loving grandparents enriched the whole.

I easily made it to the end, though I tuned out some at the mention of and rants about authors I’d never even heard of. Who the heck is Susan Wiggs? Chuck Klosterman? Augusten Burroughs?

The publisher is pushing this one with the following:

Want to impress the hot stranger at the bar who asks for your take on Infinite Jest? Dying to shut up the blowhard in front of you who’s pontificating on Cormac McCarthy’s “recurring road narratives”? Having difficulty keeping Francine Prose and Annie Proulx straight?

For all those overwhelmed readers who need to get a firm grip on the relentless onslaught of must-read books to stay on top of the inevitable conversations that swirl around them, Lauren Leto’s Judging a Book by Its Lover is manna from literary heaven! A hilarious send-up of–and inspired homage to–the passionate and peculiar world of book culture, this guide to literary debate leaves no reader or author unscathed, at once adoring and skewering everyone from Jonathan Franzen to Ayn Rand to Dostoyevsky and the people who read them.

Not a particularly broad field of authors covered within, I found, but the author did her best with her limited years of reading experience, for she’s a youngish bright young thing – I quickly googled her and found a reference to her being twenty-four in 2010 – and obviously feels most at home among the American bestseller and college reading list standards.

And that’s all the time I’m going to spend on this one. Should be in abundant supply in the used book stores in the next year or two, as all of the readers who’ve received this for Christmas of 2012 purge their shelves.

Read Full Post »

l m montgomery jane urquhartL.M. Montgomery by Jane Urquhart ~ 2009. This edition: Penguin Canada, 2009. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-670-06675-9. 161 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10.

A slender little biography which hits most of the high points of L.M. Montgomery’s life and career. Perhaps better as an overview or an introduction versus a definitive exploration of this Canadian literary figure.

A good addition to the many works about this iconic writer. Already familiar with the story of Montgomery’s life, I must say that the most interesting bits, to me, were where the author (Urquhart) writes about Montgomery’s influence on her own development as a writer.

Even if you have read other L.M. Montgomery biographies, Urquhart’s covers the same material in a very readable way, with a dash of creative flair.

*****

In the green master bedroom of a mock-Tudor house in the west end of the grey city of Toronto, a woman in late middle age lies dying, her pale arms almost as white as the sheet on which they are resting. It is April 24, 1942. Her failing body seems to her increasingly heavy, as if pulled by a great weight deeper and deeper into the flesh of the mattress. Outside, the air itself is weighted, saturated with the moisture of seasonal rain. Seeping into the room is the faintly discernible sound of the swollen river as it follows the path of the Humber Valley. The trees beyond the leaded windows have only just begun to show signs of spring.

In spite of what is about to happen, nothing in this room suggests struggle or discomfort: every cell of the woman’s body seems not so much in rebellion against life as dissolving into death, the way the rain outside her door is willingly dissolving into the earth…

The author almost lost me with her opening paragraphs. Urquhart’s biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery had received high praise when it was released several years ago as part of Penguin Canada’s 18-volume Extraordinary Canadians series, but this decidedly fictional opening shook me. Was this merely another “creative biography”? How on earth could Jane Urquhart have known any of these details, unless there somewhere exists a hyper-accurate account of Montgomery’s deathbed? There are no footnotes or references provided to suggest that this is the case.

The account of the expiration of Montgomery, and of her thoughts as she lies dying – the scene goes on for 9 pages – is purely speculative. Beautifully written, of course – it is Urquhart – but fiction.

Though the deathbed passages were pure fabrication, things improved considerably a bit further in. Though she never completely abandoned her occasional creative interpretations of Montgomery’s inner thoughts, those references became increasingly more plausible as Urquhart tells us of her reading of Montgomery’s diaries; we can more easily believe that the actual voice of Montgomery influenced Urquhart.

As I continued reading the biography, I appreciated the difficult task the author of it had taken on, to sort out the facts from the fictions of the life of this complicated, deeply troubled, rather tragically fated woman.

Urquhart cites Montgomery’s loss of her mother as a toddler, her cheerless upbringing by stoic grandparents, a dismal marriage to mentally disturbed husband, and beloved but disappointing children as reasons for her (Montgomery’s) continual efforts at reinvention of her own self through her personal writing. Montgomery’s diaries are known to have been continually edited and rewritten by the author as she progressed through her own life, which, though by no means devoid of joyful occurrences, close friends, and other good things, was so much less rosy than the fictional lives she created for her heroines.

Urquhart is a positively biassed – if occasionally “creative” – biographer in that she obviously admires her subject, and sympathizes with her, and seeks to understand what made her tick.

In spite of countless romantic references to moonlight and starlight in her fiction, and to rooms warmly lit by lamplight and by candlelight, it was shadow, not radiance, that most often claimed her once the sun had set. Her seeming addiction to detailing sunsets and twilights in her writing, if it sprang from anything at all beyond a poetic convention, may have come from a desire to hold on to the fading light. After the sunset came total, wide-awake darkness.

After my shaky initial start, I settled comfortably into reading the book, mentally sorting out the plums of fact from the lovely fictional bits and the author’s very interesting personal anecdotes. It was an enjoyable combination, but I would hesitate to rely on it as my only source of information on L.M. Montgomery’s life. It seems that Urquhart frequently assumes that the reader is already familiar with Montgomery’s body of work beyond the iconic Anne of Green Gables and its array of sequels; it assumes we are familiar with the era and the atmosphere in which the author lived and worked.

Keeping all of these things in mind, I would cheerfully recommend the book for those curious about L.M. Montgomery, and where she was “coming from” when she was crafting her overwhelmingly optimistic stories and novels. Montgomery’s truth, it turns out, is much darker and more compelling than her many fictions.

Read Full Post »

A quick recommendation for an interesting site I’ve been dropping by now & again for a few months. I thought today’s topic was particularly worthy of sharing. If you have a minute or two, check out Steve Reads. Here’s a teaser:

Six for the Bookworms!

January 21, 2013

St Catherine Reading a Book

Since there’s bloody little else to do on these wretched state and federal holidays during which the holy Post Office is closed (and with a winter storm coming – that being something of a tradition for Inauguration Days I care about), we can get a lot of extra reading done on Martin Luther King Day. Ah, but what to read? Prior to the advent of Stevereads, this used to be the premiere question nagging every voracious reader: what do I read next? (Now, in the Age of Stevereads, there are two – and only two – equally wonderful options: you can read the books recommended on Stevereads, or you can read Stevereads itself, which is now so vast an archive of verbiage that you’d need a whole day to get through it all!)

It’s lucky for such searching readers (or maybe it’s because of them?) that bookworms like nothing more than the making of lists. Books Read. Books To Be Read. Favorite Books in All Categories. Runners Up. Such lists have featured prominently here on Stevereads all these years, and they’re everywhere else too – it’s understandable, really, since the profusion of books out there makes every winnowing-device feel like a godsend.

Hence, the profusion of books consisting of lists of books! These have been with us for centuries, and now, ironically, readers need help picking which books to read about picking which books to read. And Stevereads is here to offer such help – in the form, naturally enough, of a list…

Enjoy, my fellow readers.

One of my own posts hopefully will appear soon. Still totally immersed in my other project, but I get something of a breather in a few days as I’m turning off the home computer, locking my office door on the seething tides of paperwork within, and heading to the Coast (if the Fraser Canyon road is open – keeping fingers crossed against snowstorms, avalanches and rock slides) for a day or two of being a dance mom. Which means, ultimately, after my chauffeur and audience obligations are discharged, a relaxing evening or two in a hotel room, hanging out with one of my favourite people, to rest and read or perhaps to type out a review or two.

Ciao!

Read Full Post »

looking for anne irene gammelLooking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic by Irene Gammel ~ 2008. This edition: Key Porter, 2008. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-55263-985-6. 312 pages.

My rating: 4.5/10. I certainly wanted to like this book, and I picked it up with optimistic anticipation. Sadly I ended up feeling less than thrilled with my reading experience.

I did like bits and pieces – the factual bits and pieces – and I learned a few things about Lucy Maud Montgomery I didn’t know before, but the disjointed presentation and the frequent “It could have been like this” and “She must have felt like that” and the “I am certain that x was influenced by y, even though I have no proof” soon put me off.

While Irene Gammel is obviously a dedicated researcher and undoubtedly a well-informed Lucy Maud Montgomery scholar, I feel that her presentation of her theories in this book come across as unprofessional because of her continual admitted fabrications and assumptions.

Is it better if she admits it? Here’s a thought – why not stick to the facts? Or else drop the flowery, gushing, pseudo-Lucy Maud “voice”, which served merely to annoy rather than bewitch this particular reader.

*****

The questions Irene Gammel pose as the thesis statements for this book go something like this: What is the mystery behind the writing of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s magnum opus and incredibly successful book, Anne of Green Gables? Why did LMM not document the process of writing Anne much more thoroughly, and, while we’re on the topic, who actually inspired the red-haired heroine?

(Because of course it must have been a real person! There’s no way an author could just dream up a character out of her own head!)

Well, I must admit that such questions have never personally troubled me regarding Anne of Green Gables, a piece of entertaining fiction which I do indeed like a whole lot and which I re-read with deep pleasure every few years. I have always happily accepted that LMM just struck a lucky chord with this one, and that the character Anne was likely an amalgam of various personalities LMM knew in her daily life, with a good dash of artistic creativity rounding out the details.

Does it really matter if we don’t know the exact details of Anne’s origins? Well, it obviously bothered Irene Gammel enough so that she went ahead and assembled a vast array of evidence to support her own theories. Sometimes her enthusiasm carried her away. While the factual passages of this ambitious book are fascinating reading, they all too often degenerate into speculation. The author readily identifies her frequent forays into the imaginary, but they do detract from the value of the research.

evelyn nesbitGammel theorizes that Anne’s key ancestor was young photographer’s model Evelyn Nesbit, identified many years after the publication of Anne of Green Gables as “the face of Anne” in one of LMM’s journals. I’m including the photo in question for your edification – see left.

Gammel then goes on to speculate about a vast number of other celebrities, acquaintances and fictional characters who might have added their characteristics to embryo Anne as her creator formed her and defined her in writing.

Fair enough, but these are all speculation, as the Gammel admits over and over. She throws out a daunting array of possibilities and mulls each one over in detail, before admitting that she just can’t quite be sure. I ended up feeling like the writing of this book, much like my reading of it, was a bit of an exercise in futility.

I think I’ll end with this. I could go on and share all sorts of annoying examples from the text – as well as some quite lovely and informative passages concerned LMM which are actually documented and provable by genuine references – but I’m full up to here with this one, so this is all my enthusiasm amounts to.

As usual, Goodreads – Looking for Anne has a wide selection of interesting reviews. I am quite relieved to find that I am not alone in my somewhat faint enthusiasm – others appear to feel the same, though there are some fans.

And if you are a serious LMM fan, by all means go ahead and tackle this ambitious personal project – it’s certainly interesting enough, if one can keep focussed – but keep the salt-cellar handy!

On the plus side: Some unusual LMM photographs are included, and the biographer does manage to give a wide-ranging picture of the time in which LMM was working on the book, and the artistic, literary and cultural mood of the era.

Oh – and a little heads-up – speculation as to LMM’s sexual proclivities abound in this one, though Gammel doesn’t come right out and say the “L-word” except to paradoxically refute the insinuation which she herself seems to make. Many salacious references to Sapphic friendships!

Now, to be quite honest, it doesn’t matter to me one whit what LMM’s sexual orientation was, but obviously it matters a whole lot to Gammel, as she teasingly parades this theme throughout the book. It got tiresome.

Read Full Post »

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley ~ 1917. This edition: J.B. Lippincott, 1955. Introduction by John T. Winterich. Illustrations by Douglas Gorsline. Hardcover. 160 pages.

My rating: 9/10. An unexpected story, boisterously told. The point off is for narrator Helen’s continued refrain of “I’m so fat and plain! I’m so dull and unintellectual!” Well, Helen, if you continue to sell yourself short like that, don’t be surprised if people treat you like a doormat. A minor issue, but one that I ground my teeth at a bit. Helen’s actions negated her sorry opinion of herself, by the way.

*****

This is the prequel to the perennially popular 1919 bestseller, The Haunted Bookshop. Though the books share a certain joie de vivre, they are quite different in style and presentation. Parnassus on Wheels is much less consciously intellectual; the narrator has a distinctive voice which is exclusive to her story, while Bookshop is a different kettle of fish entirely. I liked them both, in different ways.

Thirty-nine-year-old spinster Helen McGill lives a contented life on the small farm she owns with her brother Andrew. At least, it was contented, a happy contrast from her previous occupation as a governess in the city, which she joyfully left in order to join her brother in his quest for a more congenial way of life to combat his ill-health. The farm was just the ticket; Andrew has been usefully occupied with crops and pigs and mild rural pleasures, while Helen has kept the home fires burning and her chickens productively producing eggs.

But something has happened to change all of that. An elderly great-uncle has died, leaving the two his library, and Andrew, stimulated by the sudden abundance of literature at his disposal, has decided to become a writer himself. He pens an ode to the rural life, Paradise Regained, and sends it off to a New York publisher. The book catches the fancy of the jaded city dwellers everywhere, and Andrew is suddenly a best-selling author. He has started neglecting the farm to hob nob with the urban literati, and between city visits tramps the countryside looking for new material. Happiness and Hayseed follows, and then a book of poems. Through all of this Helen keeps the home fires burning and the farm on an even keel, but she is starting to get rather jaded herself in her role as “rural Xantippe” and “domestic balance-wheel that kept the great writer close to the homely realities of life”, as she has seen herself described by one of Andrew’s doting biographers.

Helen is ripe for rebellion, and when her chance to shake her brother up a bit comes she seizes it with both hands. Andrew is out one day, when up drives a horse-drawn van, with the following legend painted on its side:

R. MIFFLIN’S

TRAVELLING PARNASSUS

GOOD BOOKS FOR SALE

SHAKESPEARE, CHARLES LAMB, R.L.S.

HAZLITT, AND ALL OTHERS

The driver of the van, one Roger Mifflin, is looking for Andrew McGill. He presents Helen with his card:

         ROGER MIFFLIN’S
TRAVELLING PARNASSUS
 
Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old:
Books, the truest friends of man,
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books to satisfy all uses,
Golden lyrics of the Muses,
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming,
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us?

Helen chuckles, and is immediately interested. She does, after all, appreciate a good book herself, though not to the excess her brother has shown. And Roger Mifflin has a business proposition of sorts. The van is a travelling bookshop, and he thinks it would be just the thing for Andrew to take over. Roger announces his intention of selling his business, lock, stock, horse Peg (short for Pegasus), and all.

Helen, imagining an even more complete neglect of the farm should her brother take on this attractive offer, is aghast. She tries to send Mifflin on his way, with no success.

The two joust back and forth, and Helen gets the gleam of an idea. She will purchase the travelling bookstore, and leave Andrew to watch the farm. She has some money saved, and turn-about is fair play, after all…

The deed is duly done, and, leaving the Swedish hired lady in charge, Helen hits the road with Roger along to show her the ropes. Needless to say, Andrew is flabbergasted at his sister’s sudden whim, and sets out in hot pursuit.

Hi-jinks ensue for numerous chapters, until a satisfyingly romantic conclusion is reached.

A grand little romp of a book, something of a period piece, but happy and playful, and well worth the short few hours it takes to gobble it up.

Lippincott’s 1955 edition, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon in Langley last week, has the extra bonus of a very informative explanatory foreword by John Winterich, which added greatly to my understanding and enjoyment of both Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop – I believe it was written to accompany the omnibus volume of both stories which I’ve seen listed on ABE – though this is a stand-alone volume. Clever line illustrations by Douglas Gorsline added an extra fillip to the tale.

*****

After I’d read Parnassus, I stumbled upon a little bit of interesting news regarding Christopher Morley’s inspiration for the story. Turns out that this novel is a send-up of another contemporary novelist of best-selling “rural odes”, one Ray Stannard Baker, writing under the pseudonym David Grayson. Baker-Grayson’s 1907 book, Adventures in Contentment, was immensely popular and gained a large following of people yearning after “the simple life”; it was followed by eight other volumes.  Though Baker himself lived a completely urban lifestyle, as a hard-hitting newspaper reporter and journalist, his alter-ego “Grayson” fictionally left the city for the peaceful rural life of a small farm, where he was joined by his sister “Harriet”; the two enjoyed a rural idyll centered on the simple pleasures of country life and wholesome labour.

A detailed exposé of Baker-Grayson can be found here . Fascinating stuff!

And I’m also linking to a great review of Parnassus by Christine at The Book Trunk.

Read Full Post »

Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon ~ 2009. Originally published as Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the dark side of Neverland in Great Britain, Chatto and Windus, 2008. This edition: Pegasus Books, 2009. Hardcover. ISBN: 333 pages.

My rating: This is tough. I think 4.5/10. It certainly held my interest, but I have some issues with how the author presented some of his more far-fetched speculations as fact, without any of the language needed to make it clear that some conclusions were very much fabricated by the biographer. Not “good science”, if you get my meaning. Extra points for the vast amount of research that obviously went into this project. Points off for the blatant speculation, sometimes admitted to by the author, that makes “truth” out of shreds of fact.

*****

This was a recent library loan, picked up on a whim because of the du Maurier reference. I hadn’t realized there was any sort of connection, so was quite intrigued by the subtitle. And oh my gosh – what a can of worms this turned out to be.

It’s on the library stack for return today, so this will be a very brief summary.

In short, the author, Piers Dudgeon, has detailed the secret (or maybe not so secret?) obsession by the esteemed and exceedingly successful J.M. Barrie for the family of Arthur Llewelyn Davies and his wife, the former Sylvia du Maurier, and especially their five sons: George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. Whether the attraction was merely that of fascination for a vibrant and beautiful family, or whether the eventual focus on the five young boys was more sinister in nature, there was a decidedly – how shall I put it? – “focussed” situation going on there. After Arthur’s death of cancer in 1907, Sylvia leaned heavily on the family friend Barrie; her own tragic death three years later left the five children, then aged approximately from seven to seventeen, under the guardianship of Barrie, who, as “Uncle Jimmy”, became even closer in the pre-existing relationship to something of a foster-father.

All of this is clearly documented and not particularly newsworthy, but Dudgeon goes deeply into speculation and conjecture here about Barrie’s infatuation with the Llewelyn Davies family and the du Mauriers. Aside from the predictable insinuations about pedophiliac tendencies in Barrie, something that I was aware of, having read numerous references over the years to his infatuation with the real-life model(s) of his never-aging creation Peter Pan, Dudgeon goes even further into the murky psychological waters, claiming a sort of extra-sensory perception and an ability for “ill-wishing” that spelled doom to anyone upon whom Barrie became fixated. Dudgeon openly implies that Barrie had a hand in the deaths of Arthur and Sylvia L-D, as well as in the suicide of one of the boys as a young man, the death in action of another in World War I, and the suicide of a third as a middle-aged man.

Dudgeon goes out even further on his shaky limb and seems to claim that Daphne du Maurier in particular was deeply influenced by Barrie’s role in her life, and that her books reflect his deep (claimed by Dudgeon) importance in her world. Barrie did indeed come into (occasional) quite close contact with Daphne in her younger years, but I feel that Dudgeon has strongly overstated his influence, seeking to justify his own obsession with the “demonization” of Barrie.

I can easily believe Barrie was a man of morbid and unhealthy obsessions, though the muted accusation of  pedophilia has been emphatically denied by the very people who should know, the Llewelyn Davies sons themselves.

All in all, a rather disturbing read, in more ways than one. I’m not sure how reliable Piers Dudgeon’s conclusions are, though much of his research is quite fascinating when viewed with a disinterested eye. I certainly can’t recommend this book as the definitive account of Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family, and definitely not as a Daphne du Maurier reference – I felt this was the most contrived part of the whole production. All I can say is that if you’re interested (and it is interesting to speculate and delve into Barrie’s dark world, behind the glitter of the stage productions) you should perhaps look into some more reviews – lots to choose from out in the cyberworld –  to get a clear idea of Dudgeon’s own infatuation with his theory, and then read away with an open mind.

A good place to start is here, the New York Times book review by Janet Maslin from October 25, 2009.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »