Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Blooming Moomin Read ~ The Moomins and The Great Flood by Tove Jansson

I thought it was time that I told you about a beautiful series of books that I have been reading recently with my 8 year old daughter.  Written and illustrated by Swedish author Tove Jansson, the books were first published in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.  It is therefore not difficult to notice the war parallels in the story-lines, especially in the first book, 'The Moomins and The Great Flood', where Moomintroll, the young moomin protagonist, and his mother, Moominmamma, wander through the dark forest, trying to find Moominpapa.  This often unsettling and uncertain plot-line must have been the childhood narrative of so many children's lives in Europe around the time of the war: where was daddy?  Would he be coming home safely and soon.  ' "Tell us something about Moominpapa", asked Moonintroll', as it had been so long since he'd seen his papa, that he couldn't quite remember him.

As adult readers, we can appreciate the poignancy of this line, and recognise what a clever writer Jansson really was.  She uses children's literature to work through all the emotions experienced by a generation of children living in wartime.  It is all in the imagery:  the dark forest, the strange creatures that you cannot quite trust, the strangers watching from the shadows, and the tiny, helpless folk, just trying to keep safe.

But for my young children, it was just a thrilling, adventure story.  They were simply enthralled, if not flabbergasted, to think that a fully-grown, respectable papa could suddenly go missing like that.

The landscape of the book is dark and mysterious, inhabited by large snake-worms, shadowy hattifatteners, and countless other nameless little creatures, all just eerie enough to appeal to a child's imagination, but not enough to completely terrify.
The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, especially in the hardback edition, published by 'Sort Of' Books, making this particular publication a collector's item for book and art lovers alike.

And what ever happened to Moominpapa?  Do Moointroll and Moominmama ever meet him again?  Well, you will just have to read it to find out.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Gone Girl ~ by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl was our book club choice this month, so was a must read.  However, I probably would have made my way to it regardless because of the considerable media hype about the book.  Did I like it?  Would I recommend it?  Both questions are difficult to answer.  As always, I will try to discuss the book without giving the story away, suffice to say, the plot deals with a woman who has gone missing.  Her husband comes under increasing suspicion as the police try to decide whether or not he killed her.
The most interesting thing for me about this book was the double narrative structure of the text.  Nick, the husband and Amy, his wife, both get to tell the story from their separate perspectives.  Each court the reader until, finally, we are not sure who we suspect and who we are rooting for.  As such, the novel cleverly plays with the trust that naturally exists between narrator and reader.  
The plot itself is complicated and very detailed, which challenges the reader to be alert at all times, so do not expect a sleepy saunter through this book.  Flynn leaves nothing to chance and keeps the reader in the dark much of the time, which is quite compelling.  Yet, for me, I found the relationship between the married couple very interesting in itself.  The plot traces the highs and lows of a love affair, and how Amy soon comes to notice the 'dust on the furniture of love', as poet Adrienne Rich once put it.  But even a feminist like Rich never went to such lengths to put a man in his place.  There are moments in this book that are quite terrifying and Flynn certainly knows how to keep a reader guessing.  The setting of the book moves from New York to Missouri, but the true landscape of the book is in the inner world of the characters' minds, as Amy and Nick psyche each other out, and take the idea of a 'mind game' onto another level entirely. 
That said, I did not really care for either Nick or Amy by the end of the book, which is never a good sign with a novel.  So, I would have to answer in the negative regarding the questions asked earlier, and although I do appreciate the skill Flynn possesses as a writer, I endured the book rather than enjoyed it and I would not go so far as to give it a recommendation, despite all the clever plot twists and media hype.