Sunday, 3 October 2010

Book reviews: Bernard Ashley, Stephen King, William Trevor

These are overdue reviews from books read way back in July. It seems July was a book-reading bonanza month for me!

Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
Illustrations by Charles Keeping
First published by Oxford University Press, 1980
This edition published by Puffin Books, 1981

‘Break in the Sun’ was serialised by the BBC and shown in schools, at least I watched it in my junior school. Thirty years later, I buy the book. Is it because the story stayed with me throughout those years or because I saw the cover and felt nostalgic? In a way it is a curious combination of both.

The story is about Patsy, an eleven-year old girl who feels displaced living with her mum, step-father, and their new baby. Her step-father is cruel and lazy; her mother harried and exhausted, and they have recently left behind a nicer life in Margate to live in a small flat in London. Walking home from school, Patsy gets into conversation with the theatrical owners of a barge. They need a young girl for a touring stage play that is heading to Margate. Patsy sees a chance to escape and convinces them she is a budding actress. When she runs away her step-father is forced to look at himself and re-evaluate the real reasons for his cruelty.

This story is a kitchen-sink drama updated to the 1980s, reflecting those troubled times of unemployment, as well as new family dynamics and the universal issues associated with being eleven-years old. Patsy is gutsy and fearless, and you feel for her so much, struggling to find a sense of belonging.

The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
First published by New American Library Inc. 1982
This edition published by New English Library 1988

Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books usually concentrate on a dystopian futuristic society. (Or should that be Richard Bachman’s Stephen King books? The author himself would probably like that sentence!) ‘The Running Man’ continues in this vein, twisting elements of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ alongside a scary vision of gruesome reality television shows aimed to subdue the masses. These shows in the book play on people’s desperation, greed, and fascination with horrific spectacle - akin to those who picnicked around the gallows on the day of a hanging. Sadly the reality shows on our television screens now don’t seem a million miles away. Maybe this book should be read in schools alongside George Orwell.

It is the law that every apartment has a ‘Free-Vee’ – a television bolted to the wall – and every day it shows big money game shows such as Treadmill to Bucks, a show that only accepts chronically ill patients in the hope that they will die on air before the payout. But the real prize money can be found on ‘The Running Man’ contest – where contestants run and are hunted down, by both officials and members of the public. Forget the image of the muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film version of this book, the real ‘running man’ is lanky, lean and clever enough to realise the truth behind the shows.

The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
Cover designed by Zandra Rhodes, part of Penguin Decades celebrating seventy-five years of Penguin Books.
First published by The Bodley Head, 1976
This edition published by Penguin Books, 2010

This book follows awkward teenage loner Timothy Gedge on his wanderings around the seaside town of Dynmouth. Timothy enjoys spying on his neighbours, who only realise the true purpose of his interest when it is too late.

The story is delightfully unsettling. You feel deeply sorry for Timothy’s lack of social understanding and yet at the same time appalled and repulsed by his selfishness, his single-minded view of life. He is so desperately alone and that is the crux of the matter – as without this you would hate him, and yet with it he is curiously vulnerable. The neighbours, several of whom he blackmails, each emerge from their encounter with him saddened by the mirror Timothy holds up to reflect their lives. Tension builds throughout the book but the quiet finale is not what you’d expect, leaving the disturbing notion of having glimpsed the under-belly of real life, where a million Timothy Gedges await, as opposed to a dramatic film.

This novel won the Whitbread Award in 1976, and reading it you can see why – brilliant characterisation and description every step of the way.

More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley
First published by the Christian Science Monitor, 1929
This edition published by George G Harrap & Co, 22nd impression, No 2.
It’s a hardback with dust jacket, but I cannot find a date. I suspect 1962 or earlier.

Milly-Molly-Mandy books have a special place in my heart. I have written before about the author, but this collection follows again in the small-village adventures of a small girl and her friends. What is lovely is that the adventures are the sort that means so much to a five-year old – getting stuck climbing a tree, going for a picnic, going to the seaside. Joyce never talks down to her small audience, either, but seemingly captures their delight for the small pleasures in life and her stories feel like such an antidote to our materialistic society.

Scanner broke, so am missing two pictures! Will add them if I can fix scanner. *ponders scanners innards*
Update - November. Fixed printer!


Alexandra Crocodile said...

Interesting books! I was particularly intrigued by "The Children of Dynmouth" - might have to get that one:)

Happy Frog and I said...

I love it when you do reviews. You always seem to pick the time when I'm desperately looking for a new book to try so thanks! This has given me a few new choices to consider.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Thanks for the reviews, and I adore Milly-Molly-Mandy!

Old Kitty said...

Awww what great books to review!!! Thank you!!! All fab books I can try and search for in my library now that I've joined and am not really which one to read next! Yay! Thank you!! Although I might be hard pressed to find the Milly Molly Mandy books - these sound like gorgeous gems! Take care

Plain Jane said...

I recently reread "The Running Man". It is one of my favorites. I love your comparison to George Orwell, and you are right. It is a little too close to what we are living now.

Julie Musil said...

I haven't read any of these books. Thanks for the reviews.

The Words Crafter said...

I love that you have such an eclectic taste in books. You don't limit yourself! Interesting and intriguing-I'm especially curious about the Milly-Molly-Mandy books....

Jenny Beattie said...

I have a vague memory of the first book.... I love the cover of The Children of Dynmouth: gorgeous.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I haven't read it, but I would have picked up the first just for the cover.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Jayne...thanks for the lovely reviews. Now I have 4 new books to add to my TBR pile.

kobico said...

That makes three of us who have recently read Running Man. It is the only one of his Bachman books I've read, although it seems to me that with both personas his characters suffer from human weaknesses that can be all too real in ourselves as well.

penandpaints said...

Coincidently, I've just been looking for a copy of The Running Man, there wasn't any at the library, so I've resorted to Ebay. I've only seen the film version, so I wanted to read the book.
Thank you for the reviews, they all sound interesting!

Lindsay said...

Loved the Milly Molly Mandy books when I was little. I even had my own Little Friend Susan!

Priya Parmar said...

great books! break in the sun has such a brilliant cover and i totally agree about the stephen king/orwell pairing!

Rebecca Emin said...

I remember 'Break in the Sun'!! Wow, that brought back memories. I remember that I loved it but can't recall much more. Thanks for dredging that memory up for me!

Jayne said...

Hi Alexandra – I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on ‘The Children of Dynmouth’ if you get it!

Happy Frog and I – Glad you like them! They take quite a while so I am so pleased you enjoy them, although the reason they take so long is that I love doing them!

Carole Anne Carr – I used to think I was Milly-Molly-Mandy!

Old Kitty – Your comment made me wonder where my library card is! I know I have one somewhere, but we lost our local library – it used to be in a magnificent old building but the council decided to modernise and set it up in something that resembled a multi-storey car park. Not really inductive to browsing! As for M-M-M – you probably can find these as the stories are always reprinted – but the older hardbacks are tricky to find.

Plain Jane – Looks like three of us have recently read ‘The Running Man’. I always think of ‘1984’ – especially with the television screens that no-one can turn off. And yes, it is a scary thought that society has absorbed some of those lessons.

Julie – Do try some!

Jayne said...

The Words Crafter – I do, don’t I? Hee! I never thought of it like that but I do like reading pretty much any genre with a good story. Seek out the M-M-M books – they are so gentle and lovely, very relaxing to read. I nearly always yearn for the country after reading them.

Jenny – Oh cool! Love it when people remember the same books as me. I picked up ‘The Children of Dynmouth’ purely because of the cover, and then I read the blurb and it reeled me in.

Rayna – The actress is called Nicola Cowper – she was brilliant in the BBC series of the book, and totally captured the wistfulness and determination of the main character.

Rachna – How big is your TBR pile?!

kobico – Interesting that all three of us have recently read ‘The Running Man’. Human weaknesses – oh yes, and that is what makes his books resonate so loudly, I think.

Jayne said...

penandpaints – Oh, interesting that you have seen the film version before reading the book! I haven’t seen the film, although I know Arnie wasn’t a bit like the main character in the book. I think I got my copy at a second-hand book-shop actually, perhaps a book exchange.

Lindsay – I too had a little friend Susan! Although I don’t think I ever called her that to her face.

Priya – It is a lovely cover for ‘Break in the Sun’, isn’t it? There is definitely more than a hint about Orwell in ‘The Running Man’.

Rebecca – Hello Rebecca! Hooray, I do like it when folk remember the same books as me, especially when they are a little obscure. I think what made the story so compelling for me was the BBC series, and that great tie-in cover.

Ev said...

God, years since I read both 'the Children' and 'Running Man' - loved both of them in different ways. At the time Stephen King (I actually preferred the Bachman books) was so different to anything else I'd read. His stuff just galloped along - ok apart from the Stand his characters tended to be two dimensional, but by God he could tell a story. Trevor too is a master story teller, but his characters are so multi-layered. Totally different styles, both masters in their own ways. And what can one say about Milly! I loved MMM - used to read her to my younger sisters, very happy memories of being mother hen entertaining the chicks in the room with the 'wall-to-wall' beds ( four sisters in a small bedroom - one set bunks one dbl bed!)Yes, all great stories - what encourages us to write I suppose.

Ianswaiting said...

Your reasons for reviewing Break In The Sun are curious. I remember watching the serialisation when I was quite young. It was a very powerful and emotional story and the closing scene has stayed with me for the last 30 years. Although I wanted to read the book on which it was based at the time, I could never remember the title of it and it has been bugging me for the last 30 years! Finally a Google search on the three parameters I could remember (Patsy, run away from home and Margate) has led me to rediscover it and like you I have also just purchased the book and am awaiting its arrival.