This was the happy product of a browsing session on a summer day that found me seeking the relief of the public library’s A/C.
I brought it home and took it to bed on a still-too-hot night, the sort when you really can’t concentrate on anything but want to have a book with you anyhow.
As it turned out, the story was a perfect summer read.
It is summertime in the story too, in a quiet corner of the French Caribbean, and M’Rose, Elle and Célina are zigzagging from girlhood to adulthood.
All those familiar and petty tensions, those awkward and intense affections: the sisters are vacillating between the known and the unknown. At times it feels like a sweet almost fable-like story; at times it feels like an Enid Blyton tale with mischief and shenanigans.
The trouble is mostly harmless, or else harmful in the sly way that doesn’t result in blood gushing, but in unkindnesses that take on a curious power later as one grows.
“But who cares? Now that it’s vacation we can go to the river whenever we want.”
The black-and-white images suit the story and are surprisingly evocative (you can see sample pages here); this is not a typical North American glossy-paged graphic novel but, rather, a narrative told in simple drawings like those in Craig Thompson’s Blankets (but more artsy, less cartoon-y: check out these technical terms).
I first met Adrian Mole when I was about the same age as he was when he wrote his first diary, but I can’t understand, now, why I thought he was so funny.
Now, however? Reading it as an adult? I think it’s absolutely hilarious.
All that I really remembered from those early readings (I did read it more than once, though I don’t remember obsessing about re-reading it), was his “spotty” complexion and his crush on Pandora.
What I hadn’t attended to at the time was the marital difficulty his parents were experiencing. Ouch: that felt real. (Though so soaked in the women’s lib movement that it almost feels like a cliché at times, despite its credible intensity.)
I also don’t remember anything about Adrian’s reading, although I would have taken note of his tremendous Enid Blyton collection (which would have put mine to shame, though I, too, would have been proud enough to count my Blytons).
“I have catalogued my bedroom library. I have got a hundred and fifty-one books, not counting the Enid Blytons. (Mar22)”
If the internet had been around for the average reader in 1982, there would have been countless groups devoted to the books on Adrian’s bookshelves.
“My mother is reading The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer. My mother says it is the sort of book that changes your life. It hasn’t changed mine, but I only glanced through it. It is full of dirty words. (Feb3)”
“Started reading Animal Farm, by George Orwell. I think I might like to be a vet when I grow up. (Feb18)”
“I am reading Wuthering Heights. It is brilliant. (Oct3)”
“I am reading Crime and Punishment. It is the most true book I have ever read. (Dec13)”
“I am reading The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch. I can only understand one word in ten. It is now my ambition to enjoy one of her books. Then I will know I am above the common herd. (Jan17)”
“My mother blames my bad nerves on Iris Murdoch. (Jan24)”
I know, I know: that’s a lot of quotes. But they’re bookish, right? So you have to love them. And they also give a hint of the way that Adrian records his thoughts and feelings, so you can imagine what he does with the perils of coming-of-age.
I’d picked this up a dozen times or more in the library, but finally picked it up because I was looking for boarding school stories.
(Do you have a favourite boarding school story or series?)
It was the perfect read for an impromptu read-a-thon, and just the kind of pace and story that I needed.
Later at night, on the heels of some pretty solid reading, with everything from Margaret Atwood to cultural studies, Gemma Doyle’s adventures were a lovely distraction.
But it took me a few weeks to get back to it, and it’s not the kind of book that a reader is meant to leave sitting.
Did I suddenly transform into a cranky reader?
Whenever I picked up Libba Bray’s novel to finish it, I found my attention slipping, my frustration rising.
I still appreciated the feminist slant (e.g. the girls’ frustration with the marriages of convenience — meaning they were convenient for the financial state of the family but not for the women betrothed — and the idea of an all-girl circle-of-power), but it stayed at the surface of the story for me.
If I scratched the surface, I found passages like this one:
“He rises. He’s no more than eighteen, but tall, with hair the color of just-ripe corn and broad shoulders draped in a chain mail so light it is nearly liquid. The effect is of a lion. Powerful. Graceful. Noble.”
Nonetheless, if I just kept turning the pages, and didn’t think about those passages, A Great and Terrible Beauty was entertaining indeed. So maybe I am just a cranky reader without a read-a-thon to inspire me.
And, oh, by the way, this novel counts towards the Heroine’s Bookshelf Challenge.
(I used my “B.I.P.’s Snips” format for this one; I thought I would finish the series and post about the books together, but I haven’t gotten back to them yet.)
Read: Under the covers with a wind-up light when I couldn’t sleep, and we had company staying, so I didn’t want to disturb either Mr. B.I.P. or the folks sleeping in the spare room.
Warning: The back of the book has an Activities and Research section intended for classroom use; I was intrigued, leafed through, and promptly discovered the book’s central plot point.
Loved: the variety of narratives — characters’ homework assignments, transcriptions of therapist’s appointments and telephone calls, and official documents — which all piece together to tell a story. (This kind of thing especially thrilled me as a younger reader; I would have loved that!)
Would have loved more if…it hadn’t felt quite so earnest at times. Like you’re reading a story about a Pressing Social Issue (which, it turns out, you are), written deliberately and carefully.
Serving suggestion: Chips and soda (Why? After-school snacks bring me closer to Andy Jackson and his friends.)
Fave quote: Jackie Early’s poem, “Black”, from One thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty-Eight Winters, beginning with “Go up this morning / Feeling good & Black…”
Have you read any of these, or other books by these authors?
Or have you been dabbling in teenlit this year?