Posts Tagged ‘1968 Novel’

Chocky by John Wyndham ~ 1968. This edition: Michael Joseph, 1968. Hardcover. 184 pages.

This was John Wyndham’s last novel published during his lifetime, though there have been several others pulled from the “not quite ready” pile, dusted off, tidied up and published posthumously.

I wish I could say that this book is brilliant; one of the best; a fitting end to Wyndham’s string of creative and very readable sci-fi almost-disasters.

But it isn’t.

I found it to be a bit of a dud, in fact.

Caveat: the following rantlet is stuffed with spoilers.

Young Matthew, 11, the adopted child of loving parents and the older brother of an exceedingly pert younger sister, Polly, starts exhibiting some unusual behaviour. He talks (apparently) to himself, pausing between comments as if listening to another side of the conversation. He starts asking precocious questions, such as why are there two separate sexes versus a much more efficient hermaphroditic, self-fertile single parent, and where is the earth exactly in relation to everything else in space. He starts to do his math homework in binary code, and makes telling comments regarding the inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine.

A psychiatrist is consulted, for his family is starting to fear that some sort of mental illness is developing – for who knows what his background is, after all? Maybe his biological parents were…you know…subnormal…

Turns out that Matthew isn’t exhibiting schizophrenia at all; the voice inside his head belongs to a being from another planet way out beyond the boundaries of known space, seeing as thoughts/mind communications aren’t bound by pesky restrictions such as speed of light or sound.

Chocky, as Matthew christens his alien mind-friend, turns out to be an advance scout of another civilization, a eco-missionary, in fact, questing mentally across the void of space to find other thinking creatures, and to share a vision of better living (nuclear energy! hydroplanes! solar power!) with them. Matthew has been chosen as a communicant because of his open young mind. Too bad he’s just a naïve child, as his unusual behaviour leads to all sorts of complicated situations.

The popular press gets turned on to something weird happening after Matthew, who can’t swim, miraculously rescues himself and Polly from drowning, Chocky having taken over Matthew’s movements at the critical time and turning him into a superhuman swimmer. A similar plot twist involving artistic skills is floated.

Eventually everyone gets tired of all the press attention; Chocky decides to end the relationship in order to de-complicate Matthew’s life – he/she (Chocky’s sex is vague) has been allowing himself/herself to get too emotionally involved with the subject, not at all scientific, you know.

And that is pretty well that.

Potentially creative premise, which went absolutely nowhere.

I kept waiting for things to get properly interesting; they never did. This might have made a better short story than a novel, and it turns out that that’s close to the actual background of Chocky. First published as a novella, it was padded out to novel size the following year, no doubt in order to take advantage of the well-selling Wyndham name.

Points off for lame plotline which drops the ball early on, and more points off for the sexism which is absolutely overt in this novel, with some very sketchy attempts by the author to explain the weaker-sex complications of the feminine psyche, with all of the female characters – wee sister Polly, Matthew’s adoptive mother, his aunts, his art teacher – being depicted as silly, meddlesome, frequently foolishly moody and/or hysterical, and definitely lower on the intelligence food chain than the Big Important Men who get all of the plum roles.

Oh, yeah, there’s also a pointless mysterious kidnapping, as some secret “officials” whisk the young lad away and subject him to a series of injections – truth serum? or? – before decanting him onto a street in a faraway city.

Yawn.

4/10. Generous, because despite its poorness (John Wyndham was capable of much better!) I did read it to the end. Luckily it is a shortish book.

Margaret Atwood has a slightly kinder take on Chocky, and Wyndham’s stuff in general, in this 2015 article from Slate.

 

Read Full Post »

Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ~ 1968. This edition: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Hardcover. 311 pages.

This vintage “young adult” novel  is a gorgeous bildungsroman concerning the daughter of celebrities who is given a chance to temporarily reinvent herself as a nobody.

As a (once-upon-a-time) homeschooling parent I was already familiar with Eloise Jarvis McGraw from her often-recommended books for slightly younger readers such as The Golden Goblet and The Moorchild, and I generally liked her work.

But I’d never heard of her 1968 novel Greensleeves until bumping into my cyberfriend Jenny’s post, wherein she calls Greensleeves one of her favourite books ever, and goes on to review it in glowing terms.

I was immediately interested, as we share similar tastes in a number of genres, and set off on a quest for a long-out-of-print copy for myself. Rare indeed, this one was, with prices as expected, but I took a deep breath and went for it, and by golly, Jenny was right. This is a charmer.

So I’m going to cheat a bit here, and send you over to read what Jenny says, because she’s pretty convincing:

Jenny’s thoughts on Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves

So if you’ve been and done what I said to do and have read Jenny’s post and then come back here to see what else I have to say, I’ll pad things out a bit.

Our heroine Shannon/Georgetta/Greensleeves is an utter mass of insecurities on the inside, though she presents exceedingly well on the outside, a state of affairs I am sure a lot of us can relate to, right? Even well beyond those brutal teenage years, when we’re trying to figure out who the heck we are, and how to find friends, and the complications of romantic love and the freight train of sexual feelings and how to be true to yourself when you don’t even know what that really means because life is so utterly complicated.

Yes? Of course. Yes.

So all of that aside, the story is absolutely entertaining, as Shannon reinvents herself and puts her new persona across with mixed results to a crowd of new acquaintances. She goes into her new world thinking one thing, finds herself rather mistaken, does a mental flip, and then despite her personal epiphany finds out that people are just going to do what they’re going to do regardless of well-intentioned meddling from outside forces. The only cage door you can open is your own, because the trickiest latch is on the inside, and sometimes the cage is where you need to be. And sometimes not.

Okay, that’s the message, which I seem to be stuck on this morning, despite my intentions of telling more about the actual story.

This is my third time reading this book, and it’s still pure pleasure. It belongs on the same shelf as I Capture the Castle, another of my cherished vintage “teen” reads which defies its ghettoization as a “young adult” book, whatever that is supposed to mean.

I mean, good is good, right? Whether “targetted” for a ten-year-old, sixteen-year-old or fifty-year-old. I don’t think we change all that much inside our heads, no matter what the externals do. Or so I am finding in my own case. Essentially I am the same person I was way-back-then, with of course layers of experience and what I like to think of as wisdom <insert smiley face here> tempering the highs and lows of my emotional range.

Greensleeves is sweet but not mawkish, thoughtful but not preachy, frequently very funny, and also a little bit heart-rending in places. It’s utterly relatable in its essentials, in a vintage sort of way. It is an absolute period piece, and I say that with an approving nod, because it captures elements of its era wonderfully well.

So, if this sort of thing appeals to you, you will be happy to hear that the novel has recently been republished (in 2015) and can now be found both new and used at exceeding reasonable prices. It’s part of the “Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries” reprint series, with a foreword by the aforementioned Nancy Pearl, who I must confess I have zero familiarity with.

Obviously I’m way out of that loop, but here is what Wikipedia says about Nancy Pearl, and on the strength of that, and of her championship of Greensleeves (among other neglected books) I say “Hurray” for her!

Oh, yes. My rating. 9.5/10.

Read Full Post »

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor ~ 1968. This edition: Chatto and Windus, 1968. First Edition. Hardcover. 230 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10. I know that Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) is something of a pet author among the book blogging crowd, but I find I sometimes have to try really hard to whole-heartedly like her style. I found the writing in this novel rather stilted and distant; I also found the story itself depressing, with the humour being on the subfusc side of the spectrum.

To be quite fair, there were numerous passages of exceedingly enjoyable prose, and I did easily make it to the end of this slight novel without losing interest. And as this is my second time willingly reading this book,  it can’t be all that bad! Perhaps the fact that this time round it was hospital bed reading has coloured my review? I’ve just had an unplanned foray into the medical world, with prospects of more blood testing, scans and bed-time to come; this is certainly souring my current disposition. I’m thinking Elizabeth Taylor is not a good author to be reading in that venue. (Or perhaps she is the very best? Highlighting the cynical side of life, and all…)

*****

Nineteen-year-old Cressida (Cressy) has lived all of her life in the exclusive artists’ colony presided over by her patriarchal maternal grandfather, Harry Bretton. The only child of meek mother Rose, and ineffectual father Joe (an Irish would-be writer hand-picked by Harry as a suitably infuenceable husband for his daughter), Cressy yearns for a life outside of the earnestly dull extended-family enclave she is trapped in.

Harry Bretton was once a outré artist whose depictions of Biblical scenes incorporating contemporary settings caused a certain stir. The art world has moved on, and such non-conventional depictions are now the norm, but Harry clings to his old style, supplementing his decreasing artistic income by forays into religious lecturing, as well as taking in well-heeled “disciples” eager to study at the feet of the “Master”, as he has self-styled himself.

Cressy first announces her renunciation of religion, to her mother’s shock and, disappointingly, to her grandfather’s tolerant amusement – he casts an omniscient view over his subservient clan, and patronizingly assumes that this is merely a youthful rite of passage, though more suitable perhaps to a boyish temperament rather than that of a girl. (Harry Bretton has decided views regarding the proper subservient role of the female sex.)

Cressy then finds herself a job doing menial chores at the village antique store, and, in a small sequence of coincidences, meets a middle-aged journalist who is a friend of the antique shop owners, as well as having previously written a sarcastic article regarding Harry Bretton’s establishment. David Little is modestly successful in his field, and, living with his divorced mother, has a comfortable enough life, though he has noticed that of late romantic relationships are becoming more and more unsatisfactory, as all the “good ones” – desirable women with looks, charm and pleasant personalities – are leaving the singles scene for the securities and domestic pleasures of marriage.

David surprises himself by his attraction to childish Cressy’s innocent enjoyment of such worldly pleasures as television, hamburger bars and ready-made clothing, and soon the two are romantically involved, to the initial pleasure of David’s emotionally needy and manipulative mother Midge, who sees in Cressy an unthreatening solution to the long dreaded break-up of her mother-son domain.

Cressy and David marry, and Midge turns her full attention to preserving the status quo by erasing Cressy’s already feeble self-will and ensuring the continued attendance of David at the maternal beck and call. Cressy’s pregnancy and subsequent incompetent attempts at motherhood eventually bring about a shift in the balance of power as Midge becomes infatuated with her new grandson, and David realizes that the only hope for himself and his marriage is a breaking away from his mother’s insinuating grasp.

The ending is ambiguous and could be slanted either optimistically or the reverse; I chose to read into it a hopeful future for all involved, though this is in no way guaranteed by the author’s very hands-off approach.

I felt that the characters were nothing like as fully developed as they could have been; Midge seems to be the only fully rounded person in the story, and might indeed be the main protagonist. Cressy and David came across as mere sketches, though there are glimpses into the depths of each of them; just enough to keep us on their side and hope for an improvement in their relationship and their personal lives. Cressy’s parents and cousins are, in general, sympathetically handled, but one of the most potentially interesting characters,  Harry Bretton – the Master himself – is left as a mockable caricature.

Elizabeth Taylor was a decidedly clever writer with a wry and morbidly humorous viewpoint, but by concentrating on the darker side of human nature she walks the edge of being just a shade too cynical for my personal present reading comfort.

Read Full Post »