Crash by Jerry Spinelli ***
Upon the strength of Stargirl and Milkweed, both of which I very much enjoyed, I will happily read any of Spinelli’s work, even if the storyline does not appeal to me as such. This one in particular did not, as it is partly about football which I have no interest in, but I began it regardless and still found myself enjoying it. Throughout, I found the protagonist, Crash, rather difficult to like. His character arc was believable however, and I admired the ways in which Spinelli consciously altered his views and behaviour by the time the end of the book was reached. The narrative voice used throughout worked very well, and the writing was polished. My favourite characters were Crash’s neighbour Penn, and his young sister Abby, both of whom I felt were marvellous constructs.
Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare ***
Unbeknownst to me was the fact that this is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays; ‘perhaps even his first’, according to my beautiful RSC edition of his complete work. Each introduction in the volume is marvellous, and this one particularly sets the scene very well indeed. Throughout, the introductions speak of Shakespeare’s chosen techniques in each of his plays, his themes, the choices he makes regarding names and vocabulary, and the balance between comedy and seriousness, amongst many other elements. I really cannot recommend this collection enough.
I did not know anything about Two Gentlemen of Verona before I began reading it. The play tells the story of two friends, Valentine and Proteus. Valentine has set his heart upon leaving Verona to search for much-needed adventure in Milan. Whilst the storyline is interesting, it does not feel as polished throughout as Shakespeare’s other plays. There does not seem to be that marvellous awareness of how powerful plays can be made if things are left unsaid rather than explicitly stated. This is not the best play which I have come across by any means, but it is most interesting to see how Shakespeare’s writing progressed during his career. My favourite element here was the fun wordplay employed throughout, which brought a comic touch to proceedings.
13, rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro ***
I inwardly cheered when I found such a pristine copy of 13, rue Therese in Brighton, and was glad when the suggestion to read it came out of my book jar so quickly. The novel was not at all what I expected. It contains a lot of source material throughout – letters, photographs of people and objects, etc. – and is told both through letters and narrative. First, second and third person perspectives have been made use of, and are switched from one to the next quite seamlessly. The story has been based upon a box of random objects which Shapiro’s mother kept after one of their elderly Parisian neighbours, who owned it, passed away. Shapiro has tried to recreate her story – an imagined working of how the objects came to be in the box, as it were.
The novel begins in 1928. Several linked stories run concurrently – one of a professor whose secretary seems to own the box of objects and places it within his filing cabinet for him to find, of Louise Brunet (Shapiro’s neighbour), and of Xavier Langlais and his family, who become residents of the novel’s address. These tales overlap at seemingly random junctures. The idea of the novel is interesting, but the use of so many sources – almost like clues throughout – make the whole feel a little disjointed. I liked the idea of 13, rue Therese more than the execution. I found the entire novel rather odd, repetitive and jumpy, and the ending was utterly bizarre. Still, as it held my attention and curiosity throughout, I have given it the benefit of the doubt and awarded it three stars instead of the two which I briefly considered.
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico ***
I have heard many marvellous things about Gallico’s writing, and this title particularly appealed to me. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the book, and I did not even know which age group it was aimed at particularly, even when I had finished reading. In some ways it seemed rather too simplistic for adults, but equally, the latter part of the story does not strike me as overly companionable with children. The prose style throughout feels fairytale- and fable-esque. The first section of The Snow Goose takes place upon the Essex coast, and begins in 1930. It tells the story of a man named Rhayader, a painter and bird lover, who relishes peace and solitude. My favourite part of the novel was Gallico’s description of him:
“… a lonely man. His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for wild and hunted things. He was ugly to look upon, but he created great beauty.
The main thread of the story begins when a young girl brings Rhayader an injured snow goose, which she hopes that he can save. It then grows darker in its plot, and Rhayader goes off to fight in Dunkirk. This element of the story did not work that well as far as I was concerned. On the whole, The Snow Goose is both odd and sweet, but it feels a little lacking at times, and is not one which I will pick up again in a hurry.