Flash Reviews (23rd July 2013)

Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene
Perhaps it’s because I’m English and was fixated on the likes of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson – all of whom were also popular with my peers – that Nancy Drew completely passed my child self by.  I now know, thanks to the Internet, that she holds a special place in the hearts of many, and so when I saw this in a lovely little secondhand bookshop in Portsmouth, I had to add it to the growing pile in my arms.  I must admit that I was expecting an American Famous Five-type story.  I did get a little excited in the respect that both books have female characters named George, so that was a relatively good sign.  However, I found that I had more dislikes than likes with regard to the first novel in the series.  Nancy Drew as a character was far older than I thought she would be.  I expected her to be closer to the still at primary school age to a fashion mad driving heroine.  The mysteries in The Secret of Shadow Ranch were mildly intriguing, but I struggle to understand why Nancy and her companions had none of the infectious exitement of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven.  Any such injection into the plot of the book would have made me like it far more, I’m sure.   I must say that it also seemed rather stereotypical at times – Nancy and her friends putting on a ‘little helpless girl’ act and two cowboys living in Arizona who went by the names of ‘Tex’ and ‘Bud’, for example.  Strangers were also awfully trusting of Nancy.  Perhaps this is just my inherent Englishness creeping in again, but I must admit that these elements ruined the book a little for me.  On the whole, I was incredibly underwhelmed by the story. I will, however, be watching the film at some point in the future, as I imagine that I may warm to Nancy more if she comes across as a three-dimensional character.

A Woman of My Age by Nina Bawden, Virago

A Woman of My Age by Nina Bawden
Two of my bookish friends and I have been reading one of Nina Bawden’s novels every month, and I am so enjoying the project that I am beginning to supplement it with her other work.  For me, one of Bawden’s strengths is the psychology of her characters which she so deftly presents.  It is clear that she understands them as well as she possibly can, and this shines through on every page.  The relationships which she builds between certain characters are well played out.  I really like the first person narration used in A Woman of My Age, and feel that it works marvellously with the story.  From what I know of Bawden’s life, some aspects of this book read like an autobiography of sorts – for example, her protagonist joining the Labour Party, and the Oxfordshire setting.  Her use of descriptions, particularly with regard to the scenes she paints in Morocco, set the tone marvellously, and add some much needed vibrancy to an otherwise commonplace plot.

Despite the fact that A Woman of My Age is an incredibly well written piece with believably crafted characters, I struggled to actually like any of them.  The weak among them seemed too feeble, and the strong-minded too callous.  Elizabeth, the narrator of the piece, was rather too pretentious, and in one scene she even complains about the family home which she and her husband move into as having ‘only six bedrooms’.  I found the passages about Richard and Elizabeth’s past lives rather dull if I’m honest, especially with regard to their professions.  My interest in it slipped as it reached the middle, but the last few unexpected and rather startling chapters really pulled it back for me.  A Woman of My Age is a quiet novel in many respects, but the way in which Bawden portrays humans and the cruelties which can rage amongst us alone makes it worth reading.

Joe Berger’s marvellous ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ illustrations

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
As a child, I was utterly terrified by parts of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film.  The child catcher in particular haunted many a night.  I remember much of the production to this day, and was incredibly interested to see if the story differed from book to screen, and if so, how much.  Many of the elements were really very different within the novel – for example, the twins’ father, Caractacus Potts, seems far more interested in inventing than he does in the film; they have a mother, Mimsie; the family are not destitute, and the twins even go to boarding school.  I loved the way in which Fleming crafted this tale, and his prose was so exuberant – both bouncy and fun.  He has created such a wonderful adventure, and the many twists and turns worked so well.  I found the entirety rather unpredictable, which is a marvellous tool to use in fiction, I think.  I personally think that the plot in the novel was far superior to that of the film, and I struggle to see why they changed it quite so much.  This tale takes place in England and France, and not in Bavaria, and there is not a child catcher in sight, much to my delight.  I absolutely loved discovering the original story, and I am already very much looking forward to re-reading it when I have a little one in tow.