I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. In fact I entirely credit Wolf Hall with bringing me back to my excitement for reading. Along with many others I am, of course, eagerly awaiting a publishing date for the third novel in the installment: I found the other two well – written and fascinating.
In the meantime, I thought why not try reading Mantel’s collection of short stories and see whether I enjoyed her other writing. Short stories can be strange to read though; they don’t allow the depth of a novel, or the precision and musicality of poetry.
At first I really regretted buying this book; the stories were dull, at times convoluted, and left me feeling a little bit unimpressed. Luckily the last few stories changed my point of view. In particular ‘The Heart Fails without Warning’, ‘The School of English’ and ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ stood out as impressive stories exploring a range of well written characters in differing circumstances. For these stories alone the collection is well worth a read.
Jack is 5 years old and lives in a single room with his Ma. He’s never been Outside and the only glimpse he gets of the world is through a skylight in the roof and on the TV; he struggles to understand what is real. For his 5th birthday his Ma makes a simple cake and draws him a picture. This is Jack’s life until his Ma plans a daring escape, with Jack at the centre of it.
I find books written in a child’s voice to be a challenge at times; authors can find it hard to strike a balance between childlike and just plain silly. Room actually gets the balance just right, and what emerges is a really fascinating insight into a child in a truly awful situation.
What I enjoyed the most was that the story doesn’t end with the escape; in fact it focuses on the fact that the outside world is actually far scarier for Jack. People around him struggle to come to terms with the idea that for a child who was born and raised in a single room with no windows, adjusting to Outside is not easy or simple. Even his Ma has a place in the world and understanding of it that is beyond Jack’s capabilities.
I really loved this book and highly recommend it but my only piece of advice is to set some time aside, because once you start it you won’t want to put it down.
In my last blog post, I explained that I often feel like I am not the intended reader when it comes to children’s books, and that I can feel like they don’t really speak to me. However, every once in a while I pick up a children’s book and am able to forget that it is written for children; the characters and events draw you in so well that you don’t really care who it was written for, you just want to read more. The Middle of Nowhere is one of those rare books.
It is the late 19th Century and Comity Pinny lives in the Australian outback at a telegraph station run by her father. After Comity’s mother dies a chain of events unfold in which her understanding of how the world works and how people fit together is challenged. The sinister Quartz Hogg arrives at Kinkindele bringing danger to all there, but it is Comity’s own lies that could cause deadly consequences.
I really loved this story: the main characters of Comity and Fred are likeable and the story was well paced. Quartz Hogg showed that villains come from the most unexpected of places and the ending where the ‘noxious’ Blighs are finally introduced to the country that they inhabit yet barely understand is wonderful.
I highly recommend this book, and not just for children.