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Transitional Authors

I begin this post with a question: what is the first adult novel which you remember reading?  As a child, I always had my nose within the pages of Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, and had a slight error at the age of seven, when I decided that Moby-Dick looked as though it would keep me busy for a while, and began it only to put it down soon afterwards. face

At the age of eight, however, I vividly remember reading both Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird – the first my own choice, and the second a gift from my father – and immediately feeling as though I had unlocked a whole new world of wonders.  I swiftly followed these wonderful novels, enduring favourites of mine, with the likes of Wuthering Heights and A Christmas Carol, and haven’t looked back since.

Are the first adult novels which you read classed amongst your current favourites?  If you remember, what made you select the adult books which you did as a child or teenager?

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‘Marly’s Ghost’ by David Levithan ***

David Levithan’s Marly’s Ghost is a ‘remix’ of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The whole has been given a ‘Valentine’s twist’ to further set it apart from its original.  Marly’s Ghost begins in rather an interesting manner: ‘Marly was dead, to begin with.  There was no doubt whatsoever about that… When she went off the treatments, she decided she wanted to die at home, and she wanted me to be there with her family.  So I sat, and I waited, and I was destroyed… She was sixteen years old, but there in the bed she could have been ninety’.

The novel is narrated by Marly’s boyfriend of three years, Ben (whose real name is, perhaps rather predictably, Ebenezer), and is told from a position of retrospect, three months after her death.  Understandably, his grief is still raw as he laments upon the fate of his girlfriend and isolates himself from those around him: ‘It was ‘I needed distance for my own grief…  It was as if all the moments [of our relationship] had died along with her.  Everything had died.  Everything except me.  And that was arguable.  There were times when I felt I had died, too’.  The advent of Valentine’s Day is merely adding more pain and sadness for him, particularly as his friends are so intent upon marking the day in some way: ‘What’s Valentine’s Day about,’ he asks, ‘except the desperate search to find someone to spend Valentine’s Day with?’.

Ben is visited by the Ghosts of Love Past, Love Present, and Death, interestingly.  All three of these spirits, whilst wishing above all to alter his melancholy character, are interested in his ‘welfare’ and his ‘reclamation’.  Whilst Ben is a modern character in many ways, the voice which Levithan has crafted for Marly leans toward the highly Dickensian in terms of its phrasing and vocabulary: ‘I am still tied to this life.  Just as you have been tied to this death.  As long as the ties are there, I wander through the world and witness what you will not share.  While you’re caught, I’m caught’.  It is subtle changes like this which make Marly’s Ghost well worth a read, particularly if one is familiar with the original tale.

The parallels which Levithan has drawn with Dickens’ original are sometimes predictable, but the whole is well executed – for example, the door-knocker of Ben’s house turns into Marly’s face: ‘Before I could even gasp, she was gone’, and the consequent appearance of her ghost: ‘The chain she dragged was around her waist…  I saw it was an elongated version of the charm bracelet, with objects from our life clasped to each link.  Not just the golden bell and the golden house and the golden heart from the real bracelet [which she wore], but books I had given her, flowers from holidays, blankets shared after sex’.  The essence of Dickens’ morality tale has been kept, and the alteration of the still recognisable characters – a gay couple named Tiny and Tim, and a party-loving man called Fezziwig, for example – works well.

Marly’s Ghost is definitely not Levithan’s strongest book, but it is certainly an interesting one.  The novel is intelligently written, and Ben’s narrative voice feels realistic.  Although Levithan writes primarily for a young adult audience, he does not dumb anything down, and likes to explore dark and thought-provoking themes in his fiction.  As usual, he handles a deep and worrying topic marvellously well, and his skill as an author comes through on every page.  Marly’s Ghost is quite a quick read, but it is a multi-layered and thoughtful one nonetheless.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Literary Advent Calendar: Day One

A Christmas Carol by George Wither

So now is come our joyful’st feast,
Let every man be jolly.
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine,
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbors’ chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak’d-meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury ’t in a Christmas pie,
And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wondrous trim,
And no man minds his labor;
Our lasses have provided them
A bag-pipe and a tabor.
Young men and maids and girls and boys
Give life to one another’s joys,
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun,
Their hall of music soundeth,
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things there aboundeth.
The country folk themselves advance,
For crowdy-mutton’s come out of France.
And Jack shall pipe and Jill shall dance,
And all the town be merry.

Ned Swash hath fetch’d his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel;
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With droppings of the barrel;
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their arrants,
And if they hap to fail of these
They plague them with their warrants.
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone.
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roisters they do play,
Drab and dice their land away,
Which may be ours another day;
And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears,
The prisoner’s heart is eased,
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that?
Hang sorrow, care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark how the wags abroad do call
Each other forth to rambling;
Anon you’ll see them in the hall
For nuts and apples scrambling.
Hark how the roofs with laughters sound!
Anon they’ll think the house goes round,
For they the cellar’s depth have found,
And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassail bowls
About the streets are singing,
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in is bringing.
Our kitchen boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheepcotes have,
And mate with everybody;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play at noddy.
Some youths will now a-mumming go,
Some others play at rowlandhoe,
And twenty other gameboys moe,
Because they will be merry.

Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller.
And, whilst thus inspir’d we sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring,
Woods and hills and everything,
Bear witness we are merry.