Tag Archives: Yorkshire

WBN 55: The Secret Garden

I tackled The Secret Garden in an extremely busy week, so here’s another book I should have flown through, but instead was reading just a few pages a day. It took me a week, which is shameful considering I could have read it in a matter of two or three hours, had I done it in one sitting.

As I was reading I was really transported back to my childhood, although not to my memories of the book. I assumed I had read this when I was younger – I certainly owned it – but I found very little of the book recognisable. There were things that I expected to happen that didn’t, and things popped up that quite surprised me. Then the other day as I was on my way out, I suddenly noticed the 1993 film had just started on some obscure channel.

I ended up watching the whole thing, and realised that all my memories of the story were entirely based on the film, which differs quite a lot from the book. I loved watching it, and was particularly amused to notice that the young boy playing Dickon looked really familiar to me. A quick Google revealed that I now know him as Dirtbox from Gavin and Stacey, among other things. The young girl playing Mary was outstanding, I thought – she was perfect in the way she started off so smug and ignorant and gradually developed into a likeable, sociable young girl.

This is such a timeless story. I’ve noticed that a lot of the older books – ie anything written before about 1930 – are really heavy on God, religion and church, which can date some books as a lot of people simply can’t relate to that. It was really nice to read something that isn’t so pious. In fact if anything this book borders on Pagan in the reverence it shows for nature. Mary’s transformation is attributed completely to fresh air, theYorkshiremoors and time spent in the garden.

All in all this is a refreshing read, easy and gentle and nostalgic.

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WBN 38: Chocolat

Chocolatis a story about – well – chocolate. A young woman on the run, Vianne Rocher, and her six year old daughter, Anouk, stop in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and open a chocolaterie. The more religious element of the village (led by the emotionally twisted curé, Reynaud and a gang of uptight yummy mummies) see this as an affront; an attack on their beliefs and their righteous desires. One by one, the villagers warm to Vianne and are won over by her rich, indulgent wares at a time when Reynaud is preaching abstinence, fasting and self-denial. Chocolate is

The small village setting gives the novel a nostalgic air; it’s really not clear when the book is set. The intensely pious, church-based community feels like a Fifties throwback, but Vianne is a well travelled, worldly-wise modern woman (except when it comes to contraception, apparently). The community feels at times dense and claustrophobic: everyone knows everyone else’s business, and beneath the friendly smiles and neighbourly chats, old histories and resentments simmer, unforgotten. The message is not anti-religion, although the church curate is clearly drawn as a villain – it’s not that simple. The question being asked seems to be: who is more Christian? The man who goes to church every week and turns his back on a stranger, or the man whose face isn’t seen at Mass, but who loves his neighbour?

Incidentally, since I last read Chocolat, I started following the author, Joanne Harris, on Twitter and this time I found it took a good few pages to get her Twitter voice out of my head. The novel is read variously from Vianne or Reynaud’s points of view, and for the first couple of chapters all I could imagine was her little avatar bouncing up and down and reading the words aloud! Very offputting. But it did make me think about whether we need a little mystery from our authors, and whether getting to see an author in a slightly more personal context can affect our experience of a novel. But then I remembered how much I enjoy Harris’ Twitter storytimes, and the WTF?! moments she shares when she gets outrageous email requests from fans. So I think I’ll cope!

This is a deceptive novel. It’s easy to read and I really flew through it (although it was my second or third reading, at least). But it’s not simple. The language is rich, and paints vivid, warm images that stay with you for a long time. The characters are rounded and full, and you’re left wanting to know more about them. I felt an instant urge on finishing to move on to the equally brilliant sequel, The Lollipop Shoes. But, with another 95 books or so to read, it will have to wait, unfortunately!

Thanks to a sick day from work this week, I’ve actually read more than I needed to over the last few days. I’ll need the advantage though! So far, I’ve only been doing rereads (since they’re the books I already own and know whether I will enjoy), but at the moment I’m about a third of the way through Dracula, which I’ve never read before. IT’S FRIGHTENING.

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