Saturday, 12 November 2011

Book of the week: The Willoughbys

The day before yesterday I finished George Elliot's Daniel Deronda which I had never read before. One of those slow reads that I have been enjoying the past few years, savouring every word; although I must admit that until the last fifty pages I wasn't certain who is getting whom, who will die and who will inherit a fortune. It is a much more complex story than Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss, that I also re-read recently. It also has the extra dimension of Judaism. Among the books stored on my Kindle I have Adam Bede and The Return of the Native, so we'll see what I choose next. With Kindle, you cannot choose the book by the cover.

Slow reading contributes to the accumulation of "real", printed books on my shelf, many of which are quick reads, and yesterday evening I read one and enjoyed it immensely. I would probably not have read it if it hadn't been chosen for our reading group. The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry. If you are tired of dystopias, vampires, drugs, incest and other pleasures of today's children's literature, this is a book for you. Lowry had written dystopias herself, including The Giver and Gathering Blue, so I wouldn't have expected her to have written a brilliant parody on almost everything, every imaginable convention of children's literature with a glossary in the end, explaining words such as auspicious, ignominous, irascible and obsequious (just to irritate educationalists who claim that young readers hate adjectives), and a bibliography of classical books about orphans. If this isn't an example of the "both" of the eternal dilemma of children's literature - entertainment or education - nothing is. There isn't a sentence, a scene, a character in this book that isn't magnificent.

I thought I was long past getting enthusiastic over a children's book; in fact, I tell myself every now and then that I will never read another children's book again because nobody can invent anything new. But see, how wrong I am. I almost prefer The Willoughbys to Daniel Deronda (which, indientally, illustrates my old observation that general novels have the protagonist's name in the title, while children's book titles feature a group). More like this, please.

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