Saturday, 9 April 2011
Rambling in the Ramblas: Sue Purkiss
I was going to do reviews for today's post, but all of a sudden everyone's doing reviews. This is no surprise: someone else always seems to get there first. In the immortal words of ABBA (the supergroup, not the blog). 'If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before.' So in the interests of variety, I won't do reviews this time. But in the interests of recycling, I'm going to use one of the books I had planned to write about as a rather convoluted springboard. Could you have a convoluted springboard? It would probably be lethal, or at the very least extremely painful. But I'm going to do it anyway. Yes, that's how incredibly daring I am. Here goes. The book in question is The Book of Human Skin, by Michelle Lovric. I got this after I'd read and by wowed by her two books for children, The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium. I have to be honest - the first time I tried it, I didn't get into it. It was in lots of different voices and I couldn't see where it was going. But don't do as I did, do as I say. Read it. It's brilliant, a dazzlingly colourful tapestry of mystery, humour, romance, strong characters, exotic settings - everything. (But you probably do need a fairly strong stomach. If the thought of a doctor scraping smallpox scabs off dead patients and storing them in a jam jar concerns you, then this book is possibly not for you.) Anyway, let's not get carried away - this isn't a review, it's a springboard. So - after I'd read it, i tried to think of anything else I'd read that was similarly gothic and gripping, and I thought of Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I read Shadow of the Wind soon after it came out and was entranced by it. If you haven't read it, it's a darkly funny tale of love and mysterious villainy - and books - set in mid 20th century Barcelona. Zafon's next book, The Angel's Game, turned out to be a prequel, and after I'd read it, I promised myself that some time, I'd re-read the two books in the correct order - which I've just done. Of central importance in both books is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. If by any chance this place does not truly exist, then it should. It is a vast, labyrinthine space filled with 'passageways and crammed bookshelves... that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry.' It's a secret place, accessible only by personal introduction to people who love books. As the narrator Daniel's father tells him: 'When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands.' So - here is my question to you. What is the book you would place for safety in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books? It doesn't actually have to be forgotten - Great Expecteations is there , and so is Tess of the D'Urbervilles. (But so also is The Castilian Hog, That Unknown Beast: In Search of the Roots of Iberian Pork, by Anselmo Torquemada.) My own selection would be The Amazing Mr Whisper, by Brenda Macrow. I borrowed this from the library when I was nine or ten - time, after time, after time. It was the first book I'd come across where a being from legend entered and interacted with the normal world, and I was fascinated by it. I managed to get hold of a copy recently, and I have to say, it didn't stand up well to the test of time. But even so, I want it kept safe. Then perhaps one day, it will come into the hands of a child who will read it just at the time s/he needs it, and who will love it as much as I did.