#AtoZChallenge : P is for Pollyanna

I first came to the story of Pollyanna when I went to the cinema at the age of 11 to see the film.  Unfortunately I forgot my glasses, needed for distance viewing, so sitting in the circle it was like listening to an audio-book!  As a result I soon found the book by Eleanor Porter, to fill in the parts I had found difficult to follow, and it was well worthwhile.

Pollyanna

‘Most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it’

When orphaned 11-year-old Pollyanna comes to live with Aunt Polly, she just feels lucky to have an aunt at all. She lives by the philosophy of her father, that there is always something to be glad about. Gradually she conveys that optimism and happy disposition to her aunt and the local community.  But she is not a sickly sweet child, for she gets into mischief and never stops talking.  Often she lacks tact or understanding of her elders and she has to suffer harsh words from others who do not appreciate her attitude. And then everything falls apart when a dreadful accident paralyses Pollyanna. Suddenly it is difficult to “play the glad game” or find the joy in every day.  Will her positivity ever return?

It is amazing how many of the characters I love from 20th century children’s books were likeable but precocious children, often orphaned, who charmed those they encountered and made a success of their lives.

 

 

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Dissolution by C J Sansom #FridayReads #BookReview

Dissolution

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

I have come very late to the detective stories of Matthew Shardlake, since this first book was originally published in 2003, but I was fascinated to enter a Benedictine monastery just at the time when it was threatened with dissolution by Henry VIII via the machinations of his Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.  I have studied the ideal of the monasteries providing alms, care for the sick and accommodation for the traveller by being self-sufficient with their farm, fishponds and gardening. I also know that Cromwell’s accusations of gluttony, fornication and profiteering were based on real crimes committed by many of the monks.

Shardlake provides us with an outsider’s view of the monastery at a remote coastland site where devout, hard-working brothers lived alongside wrongdoers who enjoyed a comfortable life with luxurious food.  His task as a Commissioner to discover the murderer is further complicated by the discovery of another body and several likely suspects.  Expecting his assistant, Mark Poer, to support his efforts, he is distressed when the young man begins a dalliance with Alice, who is helping in the Infirmary.  The claustrophic atmosphere of the monastery is increased by the severe winter weather and the dangerous marshland.

Although long-winded, the mystery is complex, and it is difficult as a reader to guess who is the murderer.  We come to know Matthew very well, dealing with the pain of his humped-back while attempting to maintain dignity and respect.  We see his failings and sometimes rigid religious views but also appreciate his kindness and consideration for others. The problems of keeping office and keeping your head while working for Cromwell’s government are all too evident and I found this account much more realistic than the Tudor world of Wolf Hall.

Dissolution can be purchased from Amazon UK

British Bulldog: A Mirabelle Bevan Mystery by Sara Sheridan #BookReview

British

 

1954, Brighton, London and Paris

When Mirabelle receives a bequest from a lately deceased wartime acquaintance she is mystified – she hardly knew the man but it is not long before she realises that he certainly knew her. She is drawn back to re-examine her memories of WWII and is shocked to find that other people’s experiences do not chime with her own and more importantly, with what she knows of her erstwhile lover, Jack Duggan. Following the trail to the threads of what’s left of the resistance movement in Paris, Mirabelle is forced to face secrets she didn’t even know that she had.

This is the 4th Mirabelle Bevan mystery I have read after a gap of several years. From that standpoint it is clear to me that you can enjoy reading British Bulldog without any background knowledge. You will soon discover that Mirabelle is a brave and sometimes foolhardy heroine, determined to get to the truth in her investigations.

Leaving her friends and colleagues in Brighton, Mirabelle travels to Paris to look for Philip Caine, a British serviceman who disappeared in 1944. She is astonished to discover that Philip had worked alongside her deceased lover, Jack Duggan, and that Jack had lied to her about many aspects of his life. From the moment that she approaches one of Philip’s ex-contacts from the Resistance Mirabelle finds herself in danger, but she cannot resist following clues and instigating action. Just when Mirabelle is at her lowest, her close friend Superintendent Alan McGregor arrives in Paris, out of his depth, but prepared to risk everything to save her.

This fast-moving adventure is authentically described in its 1950s context and expresses the confusion and depression felt by many people post-war. Outdated views about the role of women have been challenged during wartime but domesticity is returning to those without Mirabelle’s bold courage. A great adventure which could so easily be transferred to the screen.

British Bulldog can be purchased at Amazon UK

Sara Sheridan

Sara

“History is a treasure chest which contains not only facts and figures, archive material and artefacts but stories. I love the stories.”

Sara Sheridan was born in Edinburgh and studied at Trinity College, Dublin. She works in a wide range of media and genres. Tipped in Company and GQ magazines, she has been nominated for a Young Achiever Award. She has also received a Scottish Library Award and was shortlisted for the Saltire Book Prize. She sits on the committee for the Society of Authors in Scotland (where she lives) and on the board of ’26’ the campaign for the importance of words. She’s taken part in 3 ’26 Treasures’ exhibitions at the V&A, London, The National Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. She occasionally blogs on the Guardian site about her writing life and puts her hand up to being a ‘twitter evangelist’. From time to time she appears on radio, most recently reporting for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. Sara is a member of the Historical Writers Association and the Crime Writers Association. A self-confessed ‘word nerd’ her favourite book is ‘Water Music’ by TC Boyle.

Spies by Michael Frayn #ThrowbackThursday

I’m borrowing the #ThrowbackThursday meme from It’s Book Talk

to share a book I read several years ago.

 Spies

Blurb

 A mesmerizing novel about secrecy, imagination, and a child’s game turned deadly earnest

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered images, we are brought back to a quiet, suburan street where two boys, Keith and his sidekick-Stephen-are engaged in their own version of the war effort: spying on the neighbors, recording their movements, ferreting out their secrets.

But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boys’ game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife’s simple errands and a family’s ordinary rituals-once the focus of childish speculation-become the tragic elements of adult catastrophe.

In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, Spies reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the bonds of friendship, marriage, and family are unravelled by cowardice and erotic desire. Master illusionist Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates, yet again, that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can’t see at all.

My Review

You need to be in the right frame of mind to read “Spies”. It’s a slow ramble through the confused mind of a young boy in the apparently uneventful “Close” against the background of a war in Europe which only occasionally impinges upon his life. As long as you’re not in a hurry to get to exactly what’s happening behind the lies then it’s an enjoyable enticing read.

It reminded me of my own childhood in the 1950s planning and creating camps & schemes with my cousins. There is a languorous atmosphere created by the evocative scents and the summer weather. It is also a really frustrating book because you feel like shaking Stephen to make him react and to further the plot.

I have always enjoyed Michael Frayn’s plays because of the way he skilfully uses words but in this book he seems to work too hard spelling things out like “private”, “privet” and “privy”. He takes many chapters trying to explain the tortuous thoughts of a young boy as seen through the eyes of his mature self and then ties up all the loose ends of the plot in a few brief sentences at the end.

I have read critics comparing “Spies” to “The Go-Between” by L. P. Hartley and it certainly reminds me of the misunderstandings and deceit of that book. But somehow “Spies” feels unfinished. We weren’t given enough information to understand Stephen’s relationship with his family and I really wanted to know what happened to Keith’s family.

This book could have been something special but somehow it misses out. Stephen is not really very likeable even if he is a typical boy of his time & circumstances. The real passions are out of reach for the reader. We cannot see inside the mind of Keith’s mother & can only imagine how she is suffering. Someone needs to write the book again, from her viewpoint.

Spies can be found on Amazon UK

Michael Frayn

Frayn

Michael Frayn was born in London in 1933 and began his career as a journalist on the Guardian and the Observer. His novels include Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), Spies (longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize) and Skios. His seventeen plays range from Noises Off, recently chosen as one of the nation’s three favourite plays, to Copenhagen, which won the 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play. He is married to the writer Claire Tomalin.