Saturday, July 28, 2007


This week Noodle has had many days off school, because of a rather persistent cold. As he is so good at sharing I have managed to share the experience of runny nose, vague headache, ennui and slight peevishness. The resulting self-indulgent bed rest has meant that I am now finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which ends satisfactorily enough with mysteries solved, absences maintained and the worthy and honest rewarded. I quite enjoyed that some of the less worthy characters managed to get exactly what they wanted as well. Dumas, unlike God, has a wonderful sense of poetic justice.

I've moved on to reading a book about Ursula Le Guin that I found in my library bag. I'd completely forgotten that I borrowed it. I won't mention who wrote it, because he says at one stage that Philip Pullman won the Booker prize for The Amber Spyglass, and I feel so peevish about it that I can't think positively about the book at all. I suspect my tolerance for literary criticism has reached an all time low anyway, even worse than during my first attempt at an English degree at Melbourne University way back in 1990 when I understood nothing that they were trying to teach me at all.

I've just started to read the new Sonya Hartnett, The Ghost's Child. In the first few pages the old woman, Matilda, announces to her unexpected guest that the good biscuits are gone because she likes to eat them too. I don't think a single line in fiction has made me this happy in years. I immediately thought of the grandmother in Joan Aiken's story Moonshine in the Mustard Pot, from the colletion The Faithless Lollybird. The grandmother in this story shows her granddaughter the world as both intimate and mysterious, and allows Deborah to change her world and her self rather than conforming to expectations.

Hartnett's earlier books hardly carry any of this joyful freedom (what with the incest, murder and wild children), and I'm sure that there'll be plenty of sorrow and harrow in her latest as well. But Matilda can assert herself and her needs; it's ridiculous that older woman characters in books are usually limited to selflessness, grumpiness or boredom. Matilda here might be bored, but she certainly doesn't sound dull. It's a wonderful thing to read the first pages of a book and immediately feel the secret and electric urge to want more, instead of just plug, plug, plugging away until the end.

The book I really want to read, though, is something new from Michelle de Kretser. I hope she produces something sooner or later. I would have given The Hamilton Case the Booker prize if I was boss of the universe.

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