Welcome to the first Blogging Good Read of 2014! Joining me this month are Sophie from Sophie in the Sticks and my pal Lee.
Up first is Sophie's choice, The Colour by Rose Tremain:
The Colour follows newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackwater as they emigrate to New Zealand in 1864 in search of a fresh start and full of hope for prosperity. The desire to set up a new home and farm is soon outweighed by the gold-rush fever as Joseph finds granules of gold in their creek, so he takes off for a full blown hunt far away. Harriet, left to cope first with Joseph's mother, then alone, is beaten by the extreme conditions and eventually follows her husband at great risk. It is Harriet that finds gold, only for a freak river tide to almost destroy everything. Harriet and Joseph imagine each other is dead and part forever.
I was really drawn to this book as the characters emigrated from my area, plus I really enjoy reading a story of something I know little about. Harriet is the only character I felt I cared for as she bore the brunt of everyone and everything with strength and grace. The more I read the more I came to loathe her husband Joseph for trapping her in a cold, loveless marriage with no children, for making her live with his mother, how he would have hidden even last grain of gold from her in favour of keeping it for himself. All that seemed to matter to him was himself. He was afraid of love, afraid to be trapped by it and racked with guilt of the crime he was escaping from. Then there was the whole other episode of the boy he abused on the camp. An utterly horrible man by all counts. I do like a book which is difficult to guess where it's heading and this one really took some odd twists and turns with some interesting sub-stories on the way. Maybe the ending was a little lacklustre but the main meat of the story was quite filling. Plus I feel rather educated on life at that time and the harsh reality of everyday life that had to be endured. Makes you feel thankful to be sitting at home under a blanket.
What did Lee think of it?
Well I must start this review by clarifying that the copy I was reading replaced pages 231 – 278 with duplicates of pages 87 – 134. I didn't get to read the mid-section, but thankfully did manage to pick up the story again. Hopefully I did not miss anything that was too crucial to the overall narrative! Overall, I found I had mixed feelings about this book. The book focuses on a life of a married English couple Joseph and Harriet starting a new life together in rural New Zealand during the 1860’s. While I liked Harriet very much, I found I had little care for Joseph. I found Harriet’s journey far more interesting than that of her husband. Joseph’s selfish, self-centred actions in relation to his family started early in the book and thus I could not generate any sympathy or care for the character. Unlike other characters in the book he did not appear to evolve in any way other than an increasing selfishness. This was in stark contrast to a character such as his mother Lillian, whose character and actions were changed by the situation she was in and became a far more complex and likeable character because of this.
What I liked about this book was the manner in which the author managed to evoke images of the landscape, the vastness of the environment and world these characters were inhabiting. Generally, I found the language the author used throughout the novel very evocative and I also enjoyed her use of the legends and language of the Maori culture to infuse the book and its characters with a wider view of the world. Overall, I am not sure it is a book I would necessary recommend, but for the elements of it I felt positively about I am glad this month’s Blogging Good Read brought it to my attention and I would be interested to read another novel from the author, any suggestions?
I struggled to maintain interest in this book from the very beginning and got about two thirds of the way through before putting it down and happily forgetting about it for a couple of weeks. Had I not been reading it for BGR, I'm not sure I'd have bothered finishing it. That's not because it's a bad book - far from it. It's very well written and is extremely evocative of the natural beauty of New Zealand, the unrelenting grimness of settler life and the desperate hunt for gold. It just didn't grip me at all. I was left with a curious sense of disinterest about the characters and their fate, which is something I still don't quite understand as it should be such a fascinating tale that you're desperate to know what happens to Harriet and Joseph. Instead I was left with an overwhelming feeling of "meh, really don't care" and I only finished it because I had to. Maybe the author's other books would be more to my taste? I feel like I should give one a go because it seems a shame to rule her out just because this particular story didn't interest me.
I chose something totally different, The BFG by Roald Dahl:
Roald Dahl has always been a favourite of mine and I'm a firm believer that you can read and enjoy a good children's book at any age. When I was casting an eye over my bookshelves to choose a book for this month's edition of BGR, this immediately sprang to mind. The BFG starts with Sophie, a small girl in an orphanage, looking out of her window one dark night to discover a giant roaming the streets. He scoops her up and whisks her away to his cave which is filled with rows and rows of dreams in jars. He's a friendly giant (obviously!) but the other inhabitants of his world are a huge, ferocious bunch of giants who like nothing better than guzzling humans. Sophie and the BFG team up with the Queen to rid the world of these evil giants but that's not really the delightful part of this story.
Dahl was a peerless worldbuilder. If you've ever picked up one of his books you'll know how effortlessly he can create a unique place filled with unforgettable characters. Everything in the BFG is perfect: the loneliness of the orphanage, the wonder of the dream catching, the utterly charming relationship between Sophie and the BFG and the unmistakable language. I was perhaps a teensy bit worried when rereading it as an adult that the latter element would be irritating but it wasn't at all. It made me smile and giggle just as much as I did when I was tiny.
Did Sophie share my love for it?
I read this when I was around 7-11 when I went through a phase of reading Roald Dahl's books. As a firm Enid Blyton girl I found the stories different and although interesting, they never truly captured my imagination. I prefer my children's fiction with a generous helping of potted meat sandwiches. Aged 28 I have to say that this book was significantly less pleasing to read than I remember, wholly due to the language of the BFG himself. Such warped sentences and over complex made-up words was not amusing at all beyond the first chapter, I think had the text been written normally I'd have been rather happy getting stuck in. I'm surprised I wasn't a bit disturbed by the plot the first time round: people being eaten, abduction, bullying, mortal danger, but I guess the BFG made me feel safe (especially as I share my name with the lead character). Sophie, incidentally, reminds me of Hermione Granger, such a little swot. By all means, give this to kids to fire up their imagination, freak them out or read it aloud to them for something rather exciting, but it's not one I'm in a hurry to pass around.
PS. I've always disliked the illustrations (sorry Quentin).
Oh well, can't win 'em all! How about Lee?
Joy is the best word to describe how I felt when I saw this book was one of the selections to read this month. Roald Dahl’s fantastic tales remind me of a childhood literary world filled with wonder, awe and a fantastic feeling of contentment. I have always loved that this tale first sprang to life amongst the pages of ‘Danny, The Champion of the World’ (my absolute favourite childhood book) as a story shared between Danny and his father and I remember the thrill of hearing that ‘The BFG’ was coming out as a book of its own and the excitement I had upon first reading it. What I always liked about this book is the wonderfully inventive jumbled use of language used by the BFG, which I always found very clever and very funny (Dahl’s Chickens being one of my absolute favourites.) Associated with this, I also like how Sophie is asked not to judge or be impatient with the BFG for this, I always felt, and still do, that this was a wonderful lesson for children, teaching them to have more patience with those around them and be less judgemental of difference. This book is infused with warmth and humour on every page. Upon re-reading it I very much enjoyed having this world recreated for me and once again seeing the world inhabited by the BFG as he shares it with Sophie and the bond they develop together. The description of both dreams and the BFG’s fellow giants (who have some of spectacular names, the Gizzardgulper and the Maidmasher to name but two) are particular highlights, along with their visit to see the Queen.
Roald Dahl is undoubtedly my favourite author, do not get me started on the fact that some people believe ‘children’s tales’ do not have the same status or gravitas as an ‘adult’ novel, for me good writing is simply good writing and Roald Dahl is up there with the very best of them. This book, the aforementioned ‘Danny, The Champion of the World’ along with ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, ‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ stand out as my absolute favourite childhood reads and it has been an absolute pleasure revisiting this one, so much so that I now intend on re-reading all of Roald Dahl’s books to once again immerse myself in the wonderful, imaginative, funny worlds he created.
Lee picked The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Like ‘The BFG’ my book choice holds a very significant childhood meaning for me. It was a text I first encountered in my second year of high school as part of the RE course that looked at inspirational and remarkable people and their relationship with God/religion and the strength they took from their beliefs. I was gripped from the first chapter and found that this book is one of my most returned to books. The horror of the events experienced during the war are hugely upsetting and this is one of a thousand tragic stories of the atrocities carried out by the Nazi party during WWII, yet I am always filled with hope and wonder of the strength of human endurance by the end of this book.
Corrie, Betsie and their father had a happy domestic life which was rocked to its very foundations when the Nazis invaded Holland. The book then goes on to describe the help the ten Boom family offered to their persecuted Jewish friends, risking their own safety in the process. This assistance to the persecuted Jews was brought to an abrupt halt following the families arrest and subsequent move to a number of concentration camps. In these environments filled with misery, pain and hate, Corrie struggles to always take strength from her faith and questioned how God could allow such things to happen. In contrast, her sister Betsie showed an unwavering love, not only for the prisoners, but also for the Nazis, pitying them for being blinded by hatred, and attempting to spread the word of God throughout the camp. This view helped inspire Corrie to try and do the same, seeking a way of forgiving the atrocities being carried out within the concentration camps. This message has always resonated with me: can all acts be forgiven? Can the human spirit triumph through the most awful of situations? Can the perpetrators of such actions truly redeem themselves? I like how Corrie freely admits her struggle to do so, and she had to take her strength from Betsie, reinforcing the importance of family and friendship.
The book concludes by describing the work that Corrie embarked on following her release from the
concentration camp to help spread the lessons she had learnt and provide physical and practical
help for those damaged by the war. I find this book to be extremely moving and inspiration, always
shedding a tear at various points of the story, but I am always left with a feeling of hope upon finishing the book, and am reminded of the importance of looking further into the world than our own doorstep and caring for those around us. I would hope the religious focus would not discourage anyone from reading this book, I feel it imparts the reader with some universal truths and lessons than can be appreciated by all. I feel that Corrie is telling the reader to strive to forgive, improve and motivate, in addition to reminding the reader that every bad situation can bring a positive, important, life enriching experience. Anyone who knows of my interest with both the World Wars will know how essential I think it is to share the experiences of individuals during these times and ensure younger generations do forget the bravery, courage and sacrifices of those caught up in these time and I think this book acts as a very fine example of this. On a side note, the film version of 'The Hiding Place' is one of those rare films that actually lives up to the book and is well worth the watch.
What did Sophie think of it?
This is definitely not a book I would choose to read because it is based on a true story (and there is nothing more disturbing than the truth). The first third of the book was all rather slow going with far more characters than I could keep up with. Reading about the hardships endured by Corrie and her fellow prisoners was horrifying and heartbreaking; the ever downward spiral of conditions and treatment was grisly. I have to say I feel guilty even commenting on this book to be honest because it's not a 'story' in the sense that it's meant to be a diverting read, it's a historical document which holds important insight into an ugly time. The omnipresent religious references really bugged me, I ran out of enthusiasm for rolling my eyes every time it annoyed me yet as it was the pivotal concept behind the actions of the ten Boom family it couldn't have been played down.
I'm glad Alex got me to read this book because I've filled in some blanks in my knowledge of wartime treatment of Dutch prisoners and I suppose how devout Christians are motivated in general. This said, I'm not in a hurry to recommend it as a light read to anyone.
I found The Hiding Place to be a thoroughly absorbing read. I'm always really fascinated by books about WW1 and WW2, whether they be fiction or true life, and this one touched on a topic on which I'm not particularly well-informed. I've read The Diary of Anne Frank but that's about all I know about the invasion of Holland and the underground movement to rescue Jews, so this was a welcome addition to my knowledge. Corrie's story is one of sheer courage, determination and hope against the odds and although it's not a pleasant read, it's definitely a good and important one.
The religious references didn't bother me particularly - I'm not a huge fan of Bible thumping in my reading matter but with this being a true story you have to accept that Corrie's faith was a huge part of both her life and her motivations for being involved in the underground movement. The problem is that she was obviously a hugely self-effacing character and any book written by her is not going to cast her in the heroic light that she so richly deserved. I was absorbed by her story and her unbelievable courage but I think I would have liked more detail about how and why she saved so many people and less space occupied by praising God. Her natural modesty seems to have held her back slightly and so to me this felt slightly underdeveloped and lacking information in parts.
So, that was January. I'll be back in February with two different book lovers and we'll be reading and discussing The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe and My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young. Until then, happy reading!