11.10.19

Minnow on the Say

Philippa Pearce wrote one of my favourite books of all time, a book that had a huge impact on my imagination, Tom's Midnight Garden. I was aware that she'd also written Minnow on the Say, though I'd never read it; what I didn't realise was that Minnow was her first novel for children, published in 1955. When I found this copy in Brown & Bunting, I snatched it up.

Minnow on the Say is a lovely, very enjoyable, old-fashioned children's story, but it lacks the transformative brilliance of Tom's Midnight Garden. The Minnow of the title is a canoe, and the Say is a river, and the two boys on the cover, Adam and David, are searching for a lost treasure that is the only thing that will save the home of the canoe's owner, Adam. There is an enigmatic rhyme to guide them, penned by a mysterious ancestor, and Adam's grandfather's failing memory.

Adam's grandfather, old Mr Codling, is a poignant figure. Suffering from what we would now call dementia, he's trapped in a melancholy past, looking forward only to his son's return from the war. But his son is dead, and Mr Codling doesn't even recognise Adam, his grandson. The moment that stays with me, and reminds me most of Tom's Midnight Garden, is when old Mr Codling sees Adam in the moonlight and is joyfully sure that his son has at last returned home.

The treasure hunt itself is painfully slow and I doubt that a young modern reader would persist with the story. The Edward Ardizzone illustrations add greatly to the charm of the book -- when I think about it, I realise that Ardizzone illustrated so many of my childhood favourites (I'm thinking particularly of Nicholas Stuart Gray's creepy and moving Down in the Cellar). Why don't kids books have illustrations any more? (Answer: because it costs too much, I suppose. What a shame.)

9.10.19

How Bright Are All Things Here

I started reading Susan Green's lovely novel How Bright Are All Things Here about a year ago, but set it aside because there was a character with a depressed husband -- a theme that was a little too close to home at the time! Fortunately that particular situation has resolved itself and I was able to return, and I'm so glad I did. In fact I needn't have shied away so soon, as the husband's depression doesn't play a huge part in the story and (spoilers) it also resolves happily in the end.

How Bright Are All Things Here is a story about family and identity, regrets and joys, secrets and masks. It contains lots of my favourite elements: art, London in the 1950s, a Melbourne setting, relationships between siblings. Bliss is in the last days of a long, rich and crowded life, and her memories intertwine with the lives of her adult step-children, who are struggling with their own problems as well as their sometimes fraught relationship with Bliss herself.

This is a beautiful novel about a complicated woman that reminded me (serendipity!) of Mary Wesley's life story -- lots of relationships, some joyful, some sad; the struggle between creativity and family responsibilities; the wry humour and delight in sensual pleasures. Bliss and Mary might not have hit it off in real life, but they have quite a bit in common.

I'm so happy that I came back to this novel, I enjoyed it tremendously.

6.10.19

Any Ordinary Day

Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day is subtitled Blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life. Understandably, I've put off reading it because I thought it might be too harrowing. And I did cry a few times. But though it was upsetting at times, overall the experience of reading it was comforting and hopeful.

Sales begins with her own 'worst day' -- the birth of her second child where (almost) everything went wrong (they both survived, but it was close). She's had another few pretty bad days as well -- her older child has medical issues, and her long-term marriage collapsed. This was the impetus behind her quest to discover how other people manage to pull themselves through terrible experiences.

She interviews high profile survivors like Walter Mikac and Rosie Batty, as well as professionals in the field of trauma like coroners, journalists, and police. While she reminds us that some people don't recover from trauma, all her interviewees have succeeded in remaking their lives to some degree, though they all stress that life is never the same.

I came away from this book marvelling at the strength and faith of human beings in the face of horror that most of us try not to even imagine. My family has faced some challenges in the last few years, though nothing approaching the terrible experiences recounted here, and I have to concur with Sales' closing message: to cherish the ordinary days, because they are the most magical times we will have.