Review: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

There was a recent exchange on Twitter where confessions were being made.  One person had asked which iconic books people had not yet shifted from their ‘to be read’ pile.

gothgirlSkellig, said one.  Cue a sharp intake of breath from me – how and in what desperate place can Skellig not have been read?  Wind in the Willows, said another.  Guilty as charged on that one – I’ve started it more than once, and failed each time – along with The Hobbit and a number of classics – Watership Down, Tarka the Otter, The Box of Delights (in writing this, I think my New Year’s resolution is staring me in the face).

Another on my ‘yet to be read’ list is the Goth Girl series by Chris Riddell.  So, out of sequence, Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse,was the first in line.  Reading this, or any other book you know should really be sitting on the shelf, broken-spined and well-thumbed, generates frustration in the why-did-I-leave-it-so-long sense and deep in the belly delight at discovering something so wonderful.

Goth Girl is a hugely enjoyable read.  With many a hat tip to Lewis Carroll, Chris Riddell has created a book full of wonderfully absurd twists and turns – it as an extended riff of the ridiculous and the make believe, a fitting tribute to the Wonderland Alice discovers.

Left alone by her grieving father, Ada explores the corridors and gardens of Ghastly-Gorm Hall, meeting a cast of brilliantly bonkers characters, each one brought to life on the page by Riddell’s drawings.  Immediately recognisable – you know it’s Chris Riddell as soon as you see them – the sketches are what elevates this book to the status of a modern classic.  So simple – lines, some shading, a little hatching – yet so well-imagined, playful and full of character.  They are an absolute delight.

And the story unfolds with a gentle compassion.  Ada is not dominant, moving through the book with a calm and quiet resolution.  She could – in fact, should – be miserable, mourning the death of her mother and estranged from her distant father.  But she navigates the mysterious word she inhabits with grace and patience; Ada is a character to admire and emulate.

Why did I leave it so long?  So many books and so little time but, with Goth Girl, it’s definitely a case of  better late than never.

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Review: Tom’s Midnight Garden

tomsmidnightIt is no surprise that Tom’s Midnight Garden continues to be read and loved, close to sixty years after it was published. The plaudits – it was voted one of the top ten Carnegie Medal winners of the last seventy years – are well-deserved.  Given the period when Philippa Pearce wrote the book (the sixties hadn’t happened yet), it is a remarkable piece of story-telling.

The story is familiar to many.  It has been told many times and in many different ways; there’s been TV and stage adaptations, as well as a film.  Tom, a young boy sent away from his home to avoid catching the measles, lives with an Aunt and an Uncle (slightly distant and unpleasant, as story Uncles often are). It’s the 1950’s or thereabouts – it is a stuffy, stifled existence, with little to do, no children to play with and no garden to play in.

At night, when the old clock chimes, Tom is woken, creeps downstairs and opens the door to find a garden.  Crossing the threshold of the door transports Tom to Victorian times.  In the garden, now in the grounds of a large house, he meets other children – only one, a girl called Hatty, can see him. The rest are not aware Tom is there, as if he is a ghost.

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