Stalled Reading

Maybe there are some books you need to grow up with, to absorb their magic properly. I remember being so disappointed that Cheryl Klein didn't like the Narnia books, which were such a huge and resonant part of my reading childhood. When she pointed out all the problems with gender and racial stereotyping, I was like, yes, but, but, but...

I could see all those problems (things which didn't bother me as a ten year old, needless to say), but for me they were still outweighed by the sheer magic of the story and the imaginative power of the world that CS Lewis created. I was content to accept Susan being locked out of heaven for wearing nylons, if that meant I could have Reepicheep, the gallant talking mouse.

All this is a long introduction to the confession that I've never read the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce. For many of my friends, these books were beloved childhood favourites, though everyone I spoke to hastily added something like, 'But they're very much Of Their Era' or 'They do have some... problems.' Which is shorthand for saying that they are terribly, old-fashionedly, unreflectively, racist. And because I've never read these books before, every 'sable countenance' and 'You tellee clammee, so dly up!' feels like being flicked in the face with a wet string.

So there's that. But also, I have to confess, I'm just not finding the adventures of Norah and her chums all that enthralling. They go fishing, they have close encounters with snakes, they ride their horses. It's all jolly good fun, but there's not enough emotional journey to keep me hooked. Not yet, anyway.

It's taking me a long time to wade through this particular Billabong. I've sworn myself to read at least two volumes in the series, to judge properly. But I take it up, I skim a page, I put it down. It's been sitting on the dining table for three days now. At this rate, I won't be finished for weeks. It turns out that  reading at speed is not the only option, after all.


  1. I didn't like the Billabong books when I was a kid. Tried again as an adult and still struggled. But I really liked reading Brenda Niall's 'Seven Little Billabongs' which is a biography of Mary Grant Bruce and Ether Turner. The bio also gives you a good overview of the work and its influence. Maybe skip the Billabong books and read the biography instead. I still enjoy Seven Little Australians, though the sequels don't hold up well any more. But they were two very interesting writers.

  2. That biography does sound fascinating, Kirsty, will definitely look out for that one.