Posts Tagged ‘Nick Lake’

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Roddy Doyle is a great writer.

He wrote The Commitments which is a fabulous book and one of my favourite films of all time!

He wrote Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which is a fantastic evocation of a ten year old boy’s childhood.

Roddy Doyle does voices extremely well. He creates the voices of children extraordinarily vividly.

So I was excited to see him on the Carnegie Shortlist. I was brimful of excitement and anticipation.

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Alas, I have come away distinctly nonplussed. This is not a bad book – not at all – perversely I’d have preferred to have hated it – it just didn’t grab me. Or I didn’t get it, perhaps. It was sweet, it was pleasant, it was… okay. I came away from it thinking m’eh.

Now the book cover didn’t inspire: that insipid yellow; the static, limp-looking girl; the rather unconvincing greyhound. But, as we are told, as I teach, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover so I ploughed on!

The tale revolves around Mary, a twelve year old girl. We are told repeatedly that she is cheeky and clever. Beyond her adding the phrase “I’m not being cheeky!” to half of her dialogue, I didn’t feel her to be witty. Compared to Shorty in Nick Lake’s In Darkness who never tells us he is intelligent but whose voice clearly is, Mary’s didn’t.

Mary is dealing with the fact that her grandmother Emer is poorly and has been hospitalised. Mary and her mother Scarlett go to see Emer every day. One day, Mary meets a strange old woman named Tansy who looks old but isn’t and who turns out to be the ghost of her dead great-grandmother, Emer’s mother, who died when Emer was just three.

Tansy, Emer, Scarlett, Mary.

There is (deliberately and consciously) an absence of men in this story.

Now, normally, the gender of the main characters doesn’t terribly matter to me. But there are men here who have a story but who are given no chance to tell it: Jim, Tansy’s farmer husband who is left a widower with Emer and a baby to bring up; Gerry, Scarlett’s Dubliner father and Emer’s husband; Paddy, Mary’s father; and even Dominic and Kevin her teenage brothers who preferred to be called Dommo and Killer and skulk around the house.

Did I as a male reader feel excluded from the narrative in the same way as these characters were excluded? I think I did, actually, and I don’t usually react like that. The sublime A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – the 2012 Carnegie winner – showed that male characters can do emotion just as well as female ones in a similar context as the supernatural helps a child come to terms with a family member’s dying. But Ness’ book is raw and painful; this one is… sweet.

And a tad sentimental.

Twee.

Tansy has appeared to “help” her daughter in her final days. Apparently, her concern for Emer had kept her “lingering” rather than moving on. And the form that this ghostly help takes is a nighttime road trip from Dublin back to the farm where Tansy died and Emer grew up. Ok. I get that.

And then Tansy steals ice creams for them.

Then they go back.

No, I’m sorry, I don’t get it. Perhaps I am lacking in emotion, lacking in empathy, lacking in x-chromosomes but I don’t get it.

And little, silly, practical things in the book niggled and distracted me which I’d have let slide normally. Tansy goes through a locked door to get the ice creams but comes out with them through the chimney because the ice creams are too solid… But was not the money she took with her to pay for them solid? The doctor agrees for them to take Emer out to meet someone… But no one raised the alarm when they didn’t return at all?

I wanted to like this book, I did; I expected to like it.

But I didn’t.

It’s that time of year again: the Cilip Carnegie Medal Shortlist has been announced!

It is genuinely one of the highlights of my year! I reserve the Easter holidays to reading as many as I possibly can of the list. I mean, we do shadow the Carnegie Medal in our school and I like to have a heads-up on the kids’ reading before the trawl and trundle of the GCSE form filling begins, but I love these books!

The Carnegie and Booker prizes punctuate my year!

I am still waiting for one book to win both. The quality of writing for young adults and the power of some of the topics – World War Two seems to be a recurring theme last year and this – is amazing.

Anyway, this year I am approaching the Carnegie blind: unlike last year when I had read and loved and wept with A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, this year all the books are new to me. And so far I know nothing but their names.

My starting point will be Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood, the strapline for which is “What would you sacrifice for someone you’ve loved for ever?”

Midwinterblood_Marcus_Sedgwick

I enjoyed Sedgwick’s interplay between the present and past in the previous Carnegie nominated book White Crow as well as his macabre and sinister subjects. Looking at the cover here, the blood red colour and the focal point of the knife, I’m expecting something similarly dark and Gothic.

The we have Sarah Crossan’s The Weight of Water which is a beautifully evocative title.

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I’m not getting much from the front cover: there seems to be a journey… I’m reserving judgement!

Next in the list is A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle. I’ve only read Doyle’s adult fiction: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Commitments but he has a wonderful ear for dialogue and character so looking forward to this one.

greyhound-of-a-girl

But, I’m sorry Roddy, I do not like the cover! I don’t like the yellow; I don’t like the twirly framing.

Maggot Moon comes next on the list, by Sally Gardner. Now, this title I dislike- it reminds me too too much of Button Moon or Sailor Moon and I feel prejudiced! But look at the front cover:

maggot-moon

How wonderful and intriguing is that? Is the lettering in a cyrillic style – will this be an account of the Russian’s Sputnik Programme? How will the lettering become significant? Is it a book about letters? The heterochromia of the boy; the ladder between the boy and the moon; the maggotiness of the moon! Very intrigued! Probably my second read… if I can get this: currently unable to get it on my ebook, which is where all the others currently reside.

We continue with In Darkness by Nick Lake:

in darkness

It looks to me post-colonial, African… a decent evocative title.

Now we come to Wonder by R J Palacio, the only author here to eschew his own name! This one looks good!

wonder wonder 3

Now this makes me feel bad: what have I been doing throughout this? Judging books. By their covers!

Next we come to a very young looking book: A Boy and A Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton. Looking at this, I feel that Pip, young Daisy P, may be the intended audience. The cover is beautiful but I’m thinking at the very younger end of the Carnegie audience:

boy bear boat

I love the Japanese feel to the cover and the immediate recourse to a cup of tea to prevent oncoming disaster! Also not one I’ve been able to download yet.

Finally, but by no means least, we have Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

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Again we’re looking perhaps World War Two setting; again the covers suggest a challenging and emotional read.