A month or two ago I blogged about MURDER IN THE LIBRARY and mentioned a novel on display there, THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY, that sounded intriguing. I’ve read it now and thoroughly enjoyed it. When twelve-year old Ted and and his older sister, Kat, watch their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, he turns and waves as he gets on. After half an hour it lands and everyone gets off – except Salim. He seems to have disappeared into thin air. Ted and his older sister, Kat, try to get to the bottom of what has happened. Ted,though,is no ordinary twelve-year old. He has Asperger’s syndrome and as he says: ‘this is how having a funny brain that runs on different operating system from other people’s helped me to figure out what had happened.’If you think this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it was Siobhan Dowd’s bad luck to have an original idea – novel narrated and crime solved by boy with Asperger’s – and be pipped to the post by Mark Haddon with THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT. She put her novel aside and it was published later after she had brought out her first children’s book, A SWIFT PURE CRY, which won a couple of awards and was short-listed for others. I think THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY really is one of those novels that can be enjoyed by young people and adults alike. There is a cracking mystery with terrific characters, a satisfying solution and a twist that I didn’t see coming. It’s funny and touching amd very well written (knocks J K Rowling into a cocked hat). I recommend it and if you do buy it you’ll be supporting a good cause. Before her premature death in 2007, Siobhan Dowd set up a charity to support the joy of reading for young people in areas of social deprivation and all her royalties go to it.
I must have pretty little myself when I last read LITTLE WOMEN, because I don’t think I’ve read it as an adult, at least not all the way through. I decided to return to it after reading Jane Smiley’s THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE NOVEL, which contains some fascinating commentaries on a hundred books, including Louisa May Alcott’s classic. I wasn’t sure about it at first: the opening chapters seemed clunky and when the girls gave up their Christmas breakfast to feed a poor family, the didacticism seemed too overt. But then it took hold. I raced through both parts and was sorry when it ended. What redeems it is that these are girls with real flaws, capable of behaving badly: I was horrified when Amy burned Jo’s manuscripts. Yes, there is sentimentality – the baby talk of Meg’s children is nauseating – but mostly it is held in check. Beth’s illness and death has an element of realism that you don’t find in, say, the death of Little Nell. The pain isn’t glossed over. In many ways of course the lives of these four girls are worlds away from the experiences of young women today. As Jane Smiley points out, ‘Jo and her three sisters aren’t recognisable teenagers any more’ . . . and yet and yet . . . The novel opens with Meg and Jo both doing work which they find uncongenial, one as a governess and other as companion to Aunt March and the over-riding theme of the novel is how they are to live and find their way in life. True, both Meg and Amy in the end find their destiny as wives and mothers, but Jo finds some success as a writer and ends by assisting her husband in running a school as well as bringing up her own children. It seems to me that the question of how to combine work outside the home and children still hasn’t been satisfactorily solved – and perhaps it never will be in the sense of a solution that fits all. There can only be individual accommodations. I was amused by Jane Smiley’s point that when Jo falls in love with Professor Bhaer ‘there could be no Prince Charming less appealing in the eyes of an eleven-year-old reader,’ though to an older reader he seems a far more suitable husband for Jo. I too remember being disappointed that Jo rejected the proposal of Laurie, the good-looking, wealthy boy next door. This time round I felt she was quite right to go for a professor. After all I married one myself.