Oh, come on David, surely you’ve gone too far this time. David – or Mr Almond, I should say, with due deference to my number one favourite author of all time – even genius has its limits. A Song for Ella Grey should fall flat on its face, should sound a bum note. How could it not?
This, believe it or not, is the drill. Orpheus – you know, the guy from Greek mythology – pitches up on a beach, not a sun-kissed Aegean beach but a beach in Northumberland, and, if that wasn’t daft enough, Orpheus, the guy from Greek mythology, has an accent, a why-aye-man type North East accent.
And then, well, he wanders around like it’s an every day thing to have a guy from Greek mythology come round for tea and make why-aye-man small talk. As you do.
I should have stopped reading.
I should have laughed, like when Alan Partridge pitches his latest dotty idea talent show (Monkey Tennis anyone? Or, try this, Orpheus in Otterburn?).
But I didn’t. Continue reading
This is a quirky, offbeat tale about pursuing your dreams, with fish – yes, fish – at its heart.
Stan’s Uncle Ernie hits the buffers when the shipyard shuts – he loses his job and, soon after, the plot. He frantically tins fish in their terraced house, convinced that ‘Pott’s Spectacular Sardines’ are exactly what the world is waiting for. But Clarence P from the Department for the Abolition of Fishy Things (yes, that’s DAFT) has other ideas and closes him down.
Meanwhile Stan, who shares his Uncle’s fascination with fish, is transfixed by the prizes on a stall of a passing circus – beautiful goldfish. He is drawn to them, captivated. He follows the fish and the circus out of town and away from crazy Uncle Ernie.
It’s a book chock full of eccentrics: Seabrook, goldfish supplier and faux gangster who actually just craves a cup of tea and a natter; Peter, a miserable circus act who hasn’t laughed for twenty years; Dostoyevsky, Stan’s saviour, who has been running the hook-a-duck, man and boy; and Pancho Pirelli, the famed piranha-swimmer who claims to be from Orinoco.
There is a wacky, cartoonish tone to the book – it could almost be a comic strip in the Beano or the Dandy. The offbeat humour and slapstick will appeal to children a few years younger than those who are reading Skellig or My Name is Mina. The Boy who Swam with Piranhas rattles along at breakneck speed – it’s hard not to enjoy, even if the story lacks the subtlety and depth of Almond’s more successful novels.
A theme for my reading this year is to plunder the back catalogues of favoured writers. Like a bookish family tree, the aim is to start with one of my ‘must reads’ and then drill down into other books by the same author. I’m on the case with Robert Westall – The Machine Gunners is my starting point, next step is The Kingdom by the Sea and then on some of his twenty-odd other books. It’s a risk, of course – some books are better known than others for good reason – but I’m hoping it will unearth some gems.
Top of my topmost family tree, sitting majestically on its throne, is Skellig by David Almond. Where to go after reading Skellig – a stunning, near-to-perfect book – is a question to puzzle over. One could almost stop reading; we’re done, that’s it, nothing will come close. But then I read The Fire Eaters. It matched Skellig for the beauty of its prose, and had the same magic ingredients; it was both familiar and mysterious. Some of the beings in his books are like people we know, some are like visitors from the stars. Both books are very briefly reviewed here.
So, from Skellig to The Fire Eaters and then back to Skellig for inspiration – this led me to My Name is Mina. It’s a prequel of sorts, but different in style to Skellig. In many ways it had to be in order to complement rather than compete with it. It contains an intriguing mix of diary, random thoughts, digressions and more conventional narrative. These fragments, distinct nuggets of writing, could have fallen apart or felt disjointed but instead they form something remarkable. Together, they show the world from Mina’s unique perspective.
Amongst other bookish things, my plan for this blog is to record and review my reading but, before I get going with all the books lined up for this year, I need to catch up with some of my reading from 2015. So, this post and one or two to follow will briefly record these books with a few words on each. Here goes:
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Stunning art work to go with a stunning book, which tells the story of a murder on board a brilliantly imagined mega-train making its inaugural journey across the Canadian wilderness. It’s packed with heart-racing adventures in, on, between and under the carriages as the train hurtles through the Rockies.
This was my first read of a Canadian author who deserves a big audience this side of the pond. An absolute must-read.