To Kill a Mockingbird

While reading To Kill a Mockingbird  I can always hear Mary Badham’s sweet, singsong “Atti-cus!” running through every line-   Gregory Peck shows up in character on every page. I came to the book from watching the odd scene or two from the movie and the gulping, hydrophobic dog scene or the last scenes with Boo Radley, Scout uncomfortably attired as a ham- were as familiar to me as if I’d read those pages already.

What was a revelation to me was Harper Lee’s writing. A movie can’t quote pages from a book which is a pity but the actors made up for any sense of a lack and pre-empted those of us with a desire to gripe. Lee’s observations and pronouncements,  stated in weighty vocabulary and in a charmingly deliberate rhythm – sitting in the mouth of a seven year old – become wildly hilarious and come extremely alive when wrapped around play yard and school yard incidents. Blissfully unhampered by a need to maintain a social equilibrium, Scout pieces together an unsentimental jig saw of her world, organising it along a personal axis of fair and unfair. You notice that she jealously maintains her right to do so. One more way that Atticus becomes a hero is because he helps her maintain her right.

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Collected Ghost Stories-M.R. James & Turn of the Screw-Henry James

I have been reading and re-reading victorian ghost stories. Circa a hundred years ago, at Christmas, you were always supposed to tell ghost stories and I believe in dusting off traditions. M.R. James is great for this, you can find him on Project Gutenberg if you want to experience some fin de siecle chills. Also that creepy little novella The Turn of the Screw *scream*. That book leaves me a gibbering, nerve-racked, suspenseful mess every time I read it! Did the governess do it? The first one? Yes! She did the master’s valet *more victorian screams*. For their sins she and the valet (creepy Peter Quint [drunk late one icy night, *slip* *thud* *dead*]) die and then haunt the little children- wards of their always absent uncle.Only the new governess can save the little mites … but do they want to be saved? da da dum! the evil ones are actually much appreciated by the little babies which is kind of spectacularly creepy, no?

October isn’t too early for friendly and unfriendly christmas ghosts, is it? Most assuredly not, I think. After all Ellen is already prepping audiences for her twelve days special.When they do that you know it’s December.

Jane Austen-Northanger Abbey Revisited OR The Reader is Prejudiced, don’t Blame the Reader

Jane Austen! *hugs* I hugs you Jane Austen because I love you. Sorry for the mawkishness, but years ago when I read Northanger Abbey I actually didn’t like the book. This was not Pride and Prejudice not Emma not Sense and Sensibility not Persuasion or even Mansfield Park. This was… I know not what but at  twelve or thirteen or whenever- I decided that Northanger Abbey was in fact not nothing. But now! Northanger Abbey is Northanger Abbey! It is a story! It creates a world! It has a voice! It is a standard of comparison!It is filed away into my mental library of Books I Can Read. From now I shall look at other light society comedies and sniff “It’s no Northanger Abbey, let me tell you.”

Arabella

Georgette Heyer. Her world is full of men polishing their eye glasses and inhaling pinches of snuff or removing tiny bits of fluff off their sleeves before they POW! take out their enemies with all the force of John McClane incinerating a helicopter with an SUV. Ah! the crooked, narrow streets where men were monocled. Arabella is an okay heroine. She is well meaning and socially conscious but essentially powerless. She is also of the dainty, big eyed type who hitches up with bored, cynical, well cravated  men who are ten years older than them. When such men fall in lurve they call their ladies “adorable fools” a lot. It is to signify till-death-do-you-part  affection and immense alpha male sexiness on the part of the gent. Read Cotillion or The Civil Contract or The Grand Sophy or The Masqueraders or Frederica or Devil’s Cub or These Old Shades, or the Corinthian or The Quiet Gentleman for more amusing heroines. The heroes usually have disagreeably pushy ways and oddly competitive natures but if they didn’t the world would collapse so it’s just as well.

Daddy Long Legs

I’ve been looking for movies based on Daddy Long Legs so that I can immerse myself even further in the John Grier Home and Judy-at-college writing letters filled with line drawings and the general sense of a perfect life being lived. I mean, she seems to be at the right place at the right time through out the whole book and that’s just something very nice to look at.She gets a little displaced when college gets over but there’s a happy ending with Jervis so all’s good.

There’s no fun in any of the movies. Fred Astaire portrays the character all wrong playing a roistering bachelor that makes him look just sad. The first time I saw him in the movie I was too disappointed with his looks to watch further. He plays a noisy drum set. Oooh! Radical! And Judy is … in the anime they turned her into a pig-tailed redhead probably because Anne of Green Gables was just so adorable and Leslie Caron is suspiciously copper hued. They shifted the whole movie away from the location in the book and it’s very hard to appreciate. They had some golden characters – the unsympathetic warden Mrs. Lippett, snooty Julia Pendleton, “Her mother was  a Rutherford. The family came over in the ark, and were connected by marriage with Henry the Eight…On the topmost branches of her family tree there’s a superior breed of monkeys, with very fine silky hair and extra long tails.” I mean, hilarious right?! But the movies just have awful, extra-girly female leads and don’t progress any further. Also, none of the movies handle the weirdness (of an older man paying for a charge’s education and then falling for her) well. In fact, the anime version exploits it. Judy tumbles around in a child-like way at the feet of an elongated  shadow of Daddy Long Legs. Hmmm. I think the reaction I’m looking for is: EWWWWWWW!

Sigh. I try reading Jean Webster’s Just Patty and get over my grief.

Just William

I haven’t rated/reviewed Just William before?!That’s a shock to me but then I haven’t read it in a while. Just William is a great example of the best of what I will riskily call period British humor. There were plenty of writers like that:the guy who wrote Billy Bunter, W.E. Jones (he wrote this one funny Biggles book) James Herriot and Gerald Durrell. Jerome Klapka Jerome seems to live on albeit as a red flag for the intellectual reader who likes fun. P.G. Wodehouse’s reputation is the only one that seems to flourish in the main stream posthumously, post empire and post 20th century; at least in India and maybe in the libraries of canny (eccentric?) bookworms else where.

Presumably Richmal Crompton was mainstream and modern once upon a time. But that was a long time ago and it seems her day is done. (IS it done? Maybe the good people at Penguin can tell us) But if you will let me be enthusiastic for a second Self what I would really like to do is shout Crompton’s name from the terrace tops. She’s funny- okay, and perceptive and William is hilarious. She can build up a moment and sometimes even if you can see what’s coming it still works. But the happy books, you know, the funny ones- maybe it was a complacent or ignorant time- but books like that from the 1920s and 1930s were so idyllic. They seem to create a settled, secure world:a big part of their charm is that it seems like they were on permanent holiday. Ha! The halcyon day humor writers. Literary period has been named.

An Experience of India

I read Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s book and think it a literary inadequacy.
Remember how the “East” was portrayed? Or how people this side of the globe were “Orientals”? Remember your Somerset Maugham where Asian servants were sly and slit-eyed and your American literature where the African slave had the mind of a child? That last one is exactly what the description of the Indian protagonist in “A Star and Two Girls”- one of the short stories in the collection- smacks of.
Did you know that she wrote the screenplay for Merchant-Ivory’s A Room With a View? I loved how the book was brought to the screen.I want to read her other work and see if she EVER gets any better or deserves one pice (I’m getting furiously Indian now) of her ridiculous respect as some kind of a tiny Colossus of the Indian lit.scene.
I’ll bet she’s only good at portraying the Europe of her 1930s childhood and its cultural morphing. Which is fine, but why the undeserved credit as a master of many cultures? Apparently she _invented_the term diasporic before there _was_ a diaspora. We shall see.

Cranford

If you like slow paced humorous observation ***!!!THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!!!****. It makes me laugh- all the narrator’s affectionate and clear sighted opinions about the eccentric Cranford ladies. There’s a little sentimentality: bright (sweet and blue eyed) happy young women are perpetually being blighted because of unrequited Love. Miss Matty IS unrequited and Miss Jessie (minor character) only just escapes. So exit Miss Jessie and we go back to funny old ladies who like to dress their cows in flannel clothes. But it’s a happy book and if you’re secretly convinced you belong to a Victorian novel you’ll be happy with Cranford- and happy that there are sequels:).

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