Book Review: Pigeon Post

Pigeon Post is the sixth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Pigeon Post, unlike its predecessor Coot Club, is set once again in the Lake District. The book unites Dick and Dorothea (the D’s), Nancy and Peggy (the Amazons), and John, Susan, Tigger, and Roger (the Swallows) during the summer holidays. The children are determined to camp on High Topps, on a mission to discover and mine gold. They also, oddly enough, await the arrival of an armadillo named Timothy.

Similarly to Winter Holiday, there were also some genuinely scary and dramatic scenes; High Topps is known for its risk of fires, and exploring caves and mines could lead to all kinds of dangers…

But no spoilers.

Pigeon Post is Ransome’s funniest book yet.

Arthur Ransome’s writing has always been fairly witty but here, humour just exudes from both his narrative style and the characters’ own personalities. My love for Roger has grown even stronger; he is always does something ridiculous or saying something silly, and at one point, he even gets a chapter to himself!

It was enjoyable to see all the children interact together in a large group and bounce off everyone else.

However, I thought it interesting how, throughout the book, I identified most with the children’s mothers  and Susan – the “mother” of the group – to make sure everyone was fed, washed, and in bed at suitable times. This may be a consequence of reading the series for the first time as an adult, rather than a child!

I’m also continually impressed by the cleverness and capabilities of these children. For example, Dick constructs a carrier pigeon postal system, hence the title of the book, which is designed to ring a bell when a carrier pigeon arrives with a letter and he also reads books about metalwork, so that the children can build a blast furnace to attempt to extract their findings.

Nowadays, I know health and safety is incredibly restrictive on what children can and can’t do, but I wonder if modern children are even interested in such outdoorsy, practical tasks. I can’t help but be sceptical and wonder: if there isn’t an app for these things, will today’s youth be interested?

Pigeon Post is my boyfriend’s favourite book of the series. I’m still torn on my decision; I really enjoyed it, and for that reason, it’s definitely one of my firm favourites.

– Judith

 

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Book Review: The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy is the first in Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series. I previously reviewed The Eyre Affair, the first in Fforde’s Thursday Next series about a literary detective.

The Big Over Easy is a satirical detective novel based on nursery rhymes, fables, and other stories.

When Humpty Dumpty’s body is found by a wall, following a great fall, it is up to the work of Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Sergeant Mary Mary to investigate what happened. Did he fall? Did he jump? Was he pushed?

Humpty Dumpty
I, of course, hate using GIFs. However, the friend who lent me The Big Over Easy loves them. This is for you, Sam.

Similar to The Eyre Affair, Fforde’s intertextual references to other works of fiction are brilliant and his writing is full of irony and satirical quips.

It took a little while for the narrative to progress, but once it did, I really liked the application of detective and crime genre conventions to something as trivial as a nursery rhyme story.

In particular, Fforde satirises the blend between crime fiction and crime reports; Spratt’s superiors encourage him to solve the mystery in a way that will create great publishing material. However, Spratt wants to be an honest detective and only deal with facts. This mocks how, especially in the Victorian period, crime fiction such as the beloved Sherlock Holmes stories, and real police reports could be published in the same magazine, meaning at times readers did not know which accounts were fictional, and which were fact.

I enjoyed following the investigation, as Spratt works how Humpty died, but I didn’t especially enjoy the “background” narrative as much – Jack’s daughter begins a flirtation with Prometheus, the legendary Titan said to have created mankind from clay, and Jack’s mother accidentally grows a beanstalk. For me, these aspects of the narrative felt a bit too ridiculous. Which was probably the point.

The novel didn’t end how I expected it to, which was a pleasant surprise. The “whodunnit” narrative kept me guessing throughout, and wasn’t as predictable as I thought it would be.

Personally however, I think Fforde could have made The Big Over Easy even darker; if he had retold the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme as a gritty, realistic, crime thriller, in the style of someone like Peter James, that would have been fantastic.

– Judith

Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon

My boyfriend introduced me to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. We then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. We’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books. So, at his suggestion, I read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Hmm.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.

Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike My Image [How To Train Your Dragon Book] handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely  written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.

The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.

The key plot points are clearly identifiable:

  • Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
  • Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
  • Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
  • It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised

These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.

However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.

The characters are different – without seeing them frequently “onscreen” like you would in a film, I felt forced to rely on a few, infrequent small illustrations and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are; it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.

My Image [How To Train Your Dragon 1]

Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.

 A second significant difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. It’s very difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.

I’m so clearly biased – sorry – and I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why kids would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read and it’s imaginative.

I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.

How To Train Your Dragon 3 is in production and is due to be released in 2019.

– Judith