Review: Mr Finchley Discovers His England by Victor Canning #NetGalley #Humour #MrFinchley

My thanks to NetGalley and Farrago Books for a digital review copy of this book.

First published in 1934, Mr Finchley Discovers His England is the first in a series of (I think) three books featuring Mr Finchley, a forty-five-year-old bachelor, who works as a solicitor’s clerk in London. When one of his bosses Mr Bardwell dies, and the office is taken over by his partner Mr Sprake, there comes an unexpected change in Mr Finchley’s life. For the first time since Mr Finchley was employed, he finds himself getting a three-week holiday. So of course, as holidays must usually be, he books himself into a hotel at Margate. But when he is waiting to catch his train, a man asks him to watch his Bentley, which Mr Finchley agrees to do but he falls asleep in the process. When his eyes next open, the car is being driven, away and Mr Finchley finds himself kidnapped. He is unnerved but decides to take the experience as an adventure, one he could have never had in his normal life. From here, he manages to make his escape. And with this starts a holiday completely unlike what Mr Finchley could have ever imagined. Mr Finchley traipses across the country, soaking in nature, meeting interesting people and having a series of unforeseen adventures. He falls in with tramps, artists, travellers, and gypsies, ends up taking jobs at a fair and selling petrol, being mistaken for a vagrant and a lunatic, is almost strangled, plays cricket and even takes to smuggling! His adventures change his life completely, so much so that there is likely to be a change in his everyday life too.

This was such a fun, charming read, with gentle humour and a very likeable set of characters. Something like Three Men in a Boat but without the slapstick. What I really liked about Mr Finchley as a character was how open he was to each new adventure, to each new experience, and how ready he was to enjoy every thing that came his way, irked sometimes (only initially), but never complaining or grumbling much, rather relishing every moment. The people he meets have interesting stories (unlike Mr Finchley’s own which is rather ordinary untill this adventure begins), some sad, some simply unusual, and while not all are honest and straightforward, they certainly are far from the ordinary. I also loved how away from grey London, Mr Finchley gets to really immerse himself in nature, whether it be the birds around, or the sea, or the moors, there is a certain peace about the places he spends time at which transfers itself to the reader as well. My first acquaintance with Mr Finchley and Victor Canning’s work was really delightful. Looking forward to more in the future.    

The book was published on 18 April 2019!

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Shelf Control #41: Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wednesday the 24th of April, and time for Shelf Control once again. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. If you want to join in, every Wednesday, simply pick a book from your TBR pile (or mountain, as mine is:) ), and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and do share your links in the comments below as well, as I’d love to see your picks!

This is the final Shelf Control post in April, and I have yet another book today published in the 1930s (which is my reading theme for the month). Today’s pick is Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. This book was first published in 1934. This is second in a series of thirty-two books that Thirkell set in the fictional county of Barshetshire, created by Antony Trollope. He wrote six Chronicles of Barsetshire.

What it’s all about: The story is centered on the Leslie family of Rushwater House, where Lady Emily reigns amidst confusion and turmoil. Mr Leslie has taken off on a cruise to the “Northern Capitals of Europe”. Agnes, the daughter of the house is home on a visit with her children. Two other sons deal with their problems and try to find their own paths. One grandson, Martin is fast growing up. There is a cousin Mary, also there on a visit. And there’s more of a cast to add to the confusion–French tenants, and a social leech, Mr Holt. Wild Strawberries takes us on an amusing journey into all their lives and interactions!

Angela Thirkell
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Angela Thirkell, was an English and Australian novelist. Daughter of John Mackail and Margaret Burne-Jones, she was a first cousin once removed to Rudyard Kipling. Her brother Denis Mackail was also a novelist, best known these days I think for Greenery Street republished by Persephone books in 2002. [Going off on a tangent here, but Mackail’s work was praised by Wodehouse in one of his books, and the one book I’ve read by him, Romance to the Rescue was really good fun, very Wodehousian.] Thirkell’s works are described as having ‘satirical exuberance’. She has written a handful of standalone books, besides the Barsetshire Chronicles. Find out more about Angela Thirkell on Wikipedia (here) and from the Angela Thirkell Society of North America here.

I read one of her Barshetshire books a couple of years ago, August Folly (1936) which was a delightful comedy of manners set around an amateur performance of Hippolytus being rehearsed in a village amidst which many f the characters fall in love or fancy themselves in love, only to be shaken back into reality and their senses eventually. Based on that reading experience, I so expect Wild Strawberries to be a fun and crazy journey as well!

Have you read this book or any of Thirkell’s other Barshetshire books? If any other/s which one/s? Did you enjoy them? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

All the information about the book and Thirkell, are as always from Wikipedia and Goodreads, and about August Folly, from my own review.

How Jack Began to View the World

By Arthur Rackam via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been seeing plenty of re-tellings lately, also books that explore the stories of what happens to characters from stories after we’ve “left” them–Alice some years later, for instance (like the new Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass movies or Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, which I have waiting on my NetGalley pile). This post is about one of the later category that is, what happens to a character from a story when he/she has returned from his/her adventure and settled down to a “normal” life. But it isn’t a book, but a poem–‘Stalky Jack’ by William Brighty Rands.

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882) was a writer and a major author of nursery rhymes of the Victorian era, who also worked as a reporter in the House of Commons. Labelled the “Laurete of the Nursery”, he wrote under the pseudonyms Henry Holbeach and Mathew Browne. Find a bio here.

The author: Images from the Victorian Web (here) and AllPoetry.com (here).

Anyway, back to the actual poem now. The poem is about Jack, the boy, “who took long walks; Who lived on beans and ate the stalks“. When we hear of Jack here, he has been a year and a day in the Giants’ Country, where he was lost, but has now returned. But ever since that incident, Jack has no longer been the same but is a much altered boy, and has undergone “A change in notions of extent!

Jack no longer understands things “normal” sized but views them as a giant would. He wants to enter at the second floor, wants a bowl of soup “as large as a hoop”, and thinks a sirloin no more than “a couple of bites”. Not only that, humans themselves to him are “minikin mites”.

As a result he has been bought magnifying glasses, and only since he put them on, has the world for him “come to its proper size”. All the boys. however, point to him, calling him Stalky Jack, and no girl would ever marry him, since she wouldn’t want to be thought three times her proper height. (Didn’t he marry a princess, though?)

That as the author points out to us, is the consequence of “taking extravagant walks; And living on beans and eating the stalks“.

This is such a cute and fun poem–it certainly brought a smile to my face. I honestly don’t think I would have thought of how perceptions (of size) would change if one were exposed to a world of such different proportions. I don’t remember my Gulliver all that well, though I know there were chapters between his different voyages. Did his own world, the “normal” world seem too big or too small (not as things should be) when he returned from Lilliput or Brobdingnag?


Gulliver and the King of Brobdingnag, James Gillray [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I do remember that when he returns from the land of the horse-people, the Houyhnhnms, he is unable to adjust to life with his own kind, and lives as much away from them as he can.


Gulliver with the Houthnhnms, Grandville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Exposure to different people, cultures, places does open up new ideas, bring out in us new perceptions of what might be good or right, or make us see our own world with new eyes. Whether we can readjust, or like Gulliver shun those of our kind since we’ve seen better, or need goggles like Jack to make the world seem normal again, adventures, an understanding of different places/cultures do change us in one way or other which Stalky Jack shows us in a fun and enjoyable way.

And while I may have taken off on a tangent in this post, this is a light-hearted poem to read for a laugh or at least a smile. Find the full poem on the Victorian Web here.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (35)

“Poirot,” I said. “I have been thinking.”
“An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”

Agatha Christie, Peril at End House (1932)

Image source: Agatha Christie plaque -Torre Abbey.jpg: Violetrigaderivative work: F l a n k e r [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

#AgathaChristie #humour #Wodehousian

Children’s Book of the Month: Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

I’ve written about this one previously on Shelf Control (find that post here), and now that I read the book, here’s my review.

This was my introduction to Walliams, whose books I’d been noticing for quite a while, and I picked this one since the plot sounded great fun (so do many of the others, actually). This is all about eleven-year-old Ben, whose parents are obsessed with a dancing show “Strictly Stars Dancing”, and who want him to take an interest in it as well. No, not just an interest, but they wish he’d turn a contestant and conquer the dancing world on both sides of the pond.But Ben is really interested only in plumbing, and even goes to great lengths to buy plumbing magazines and hide them where his parents can’t find them, not expecting them to encourage him in this pursuit. Anyway, when Ben’s parents are watching the show or going to any live event associated with it, Ben is left at his grandma’s (usually every Friday). But he finds poor Granny rather boring because she is your typical old lady with white hair, and false teeth, who unfortunately smells of cabbage (and cooks everything, including cake, with cabbage—there’s even a “recipe”), and only likes to play scrabble with Ben, and read endless gangsta novels. All Ben tries to do when he is at Granny’s is to try and escape, even trying to agree to watching Strictly Stars Dancing with his parents. But all that changes one day to just the reverse when he discovers that his grandma is an international jewel thief—a gangsta granny!!! Now Ben can’t wait to be at Granny to hear all about her adventures when she was young(as he realises to his surprise that all grannies are), and even to try and join her one, perhaps?

This book was so cute and so much fun. I loved the plot when I read about it and as much when I read it in execution. The story goes along for a bit as you expect it to, but then also takes a few unexpected turns as well. It has adventure, humour, lots of fun illustrations as well (by Tony Ross) which I really loved as well. It is lighthearted pretty much all through but takes on a slightly more serious note towards the end which is a little bittersweet. Ben is pretty likeable, and his parents are a little crazy but fun too. In poking fun at their obsession with the dancing show, Walliams is also I guess poking fun at his own world (I only discovered that he is a judge on Britain’s Got Talent when I wrote a post about this book some time ago).Granny who might look like your typical grandma turns out surprising in her own way, though what she really wants in life is no different from others in her place. I enjoyed her tales about all her jewel heists in various parts of the world. Another thing I liked about the book is that without being preachy, it is able to deliver an important message as well about age and about the relationship between generations—not just grandparents and grandchildren but parents and children as well. I really enjoyed this a lot. The one complaint I had though was that the humour in some places is somewhat on the crass side which I found off-putting, but not all of it, so it didn’t interfere with my reading too much.

Have you read this one? How did you like it?

#Humour #ChildrensLiterature #DavidWalliams 

Halloween Read: The Great Ghost Rescue

Great Ghost Rescue

This was my pick for my Halloween read this year. Eva Ibbotson’s books (at least the couple I’ve read so far) feature witches and ghosts and ghouls with their stinks and spells, smells and sometimes even ‘bloody’ inclinations, but still remain light-hearted, fun reads, rather than ‘horror’ fiction. Most of them (the ghosts, I mean) are rather likeable, much more so than some humans. The Great Ghost Rescue was no different, and yet perhaps a more serious themed book than the others I’ve read by her. In this one, somewhat like the last one I read (Dial-a-Ghost), a family of ghosts find themselves homeless after many centuries, for modern humans can never seem to leave any place alone, or any one (human, animal, or ghost) to live their lives in peace, covering everything with concrete, noise, and garbage, and destroying any bit of nature they can lay their hands on. But luckily for this family, headed by the Gliding Kilt and his wife, the Hag, they meet a little boy at his school, Rick, who empathises with his fellow creatures and sets out to help them get a sanctuary for ghosts. Soon news of their ‘mission’ spreads all over, and various ghosts and other creatures begin to join them. The youngest of the ghost family, Humphrey is called Humphrey the Horrible, but is anything but horrible. But when their path to securing their sanctuary turns out to be riddled with far more danger than they had anticipated, it is Humphrey who has to act, to save his family, the other ghosts, and himself. (The actual story is somewhat different from the synopsis at the back of the book based on which I’d written about this book here.)

 

This was once again a fun read but much more than just an adventure story with ghosts. The author, as I read from her bio had moved to England from Vienna, from where her family had to flee during the Nazi regime, and this book certainly reflects those experiences. There are places where she expressly talks about people who are not wanted because they are different, but really the whole book is about that as well—that everyone, animal, human, even ghost or vampire-bat is entitled to a place where they can live securely and happily. These creatures may be different but perhaps the real horror is caused by humans who seem to keep destroying everything, animals’ habitats, food sources, open spaces, and then target the animals for whatever they do in their desperation; target those who are ‘different’ just for being so. Another point that stands out is how we judge others so readily, yet rarely evaluate our own actions.

 

But I am making it sound all serious—while these themes are indeed what stand out, this is also an adventure story, where there are ghosts of various sorts in need of a home, a perilous journey to be made to find that home and even a villain to be defeated to finally achieve it, and this book has all those elements and also some touches of humour.

 

Though more serious than what I had in mind for Halloween, this was still an enjoyable and fun read!

Will Your Aunt be Eaten Up?

Yet another post ‘inspired’ by booktube, well not inspired really but on something I was reminded of because of a video I saw there. Before I start however, I’d just like to clarify that despite what the title might suggest, this is a post on something humorous, not spooky. So, a few days ago I was watching this chat/discussion video with three booktubers, and one of them said something about an aunt, and went on to talk about how the word is pronounced. As far as I was aware, the ‘aunt’ vs ‘ant’ difference was one of British vs American pronunciation, but one of them brought up the point that this may be a Canadian vs American thing (as well) (which I am not aware of so won’t comment on). [The video is here– it’s a long one but the point comes up at the start; around 2:39.]. Also, please note this post has spoilers so in case you are bothered by this, don’t read on.

 

Dirty Beasts.jpg

 

But that discussion reminded me of a poem that I like very much, and one that pokes fun at this very thing–the Ant-Eater by Roald Dahl, which appears in the book Dirty Beasts. The poem has some of the same themes as many Dahl stories, spoilt rotten brats who ultimately end up paying the price for being as they are.

The poem is about this very spoilt child called Roy, the only child of a wealthy American family, who lived somewhere near San Francisco Bay. Roy is

 

“A plump and unattractive boy –

Half-baked, half-witted and half-boiled,

But worst of all, most dreadfully spoiled.” (Dahl, The Ant-Eater)

 

Somewhat like Verruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or even Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley)Roy is bought everything that he desires by his parents, whether toy cars and model airplanes or a colour TV, besides all sorts of animals, his house being filled with “sufficient toys; To thrill half a million boys” but he continues to demand more and more and more. Then comes a point at which he is hard pressed to think of something new that he doesn’t have, and after giving it some thought, he comes upon a really novel idea. He demands a peculiar pet, one no one else has–a “Giant Ant-Eater”.

 

Of course, as soon as his father hears of it, he begins to try and locate one, writing to all the zoos and such but finds they are simply not sold. So he begins looking elsewhere. Ultimately, he manages to find “an Indian gent” living “near Delhi, in a tent”, who has what they want but demands a price of 50,000 gold rupees (were there ever gold rupees, I am not sure).

 

Naturally, the price is paid and the ant-eater arrives, but demands food as soon as he reaches for no one has looked after him or fed him on the way. But heartless Roy is not one to be bothered by things such as this, and saying that he wont give him bread or meat sends him off to look for ants, for that’s what ant-eaters eat. The poor ant-eater hunts high and low, and finding not a single ant desperately asks Roy for food once again, only to be told “Go, find an ant!”.

 

One day, it so happens that Roy’s old aunt Dorothy, a lady of eighty-three arrives for a  visit. Roy is keen to show off his new pet, and takes her down and indicates the poor animal, all skin and bones. He calls the Ant-Eater to meet his ‘ant’ for:

 

(Some people in the U.S.A.

Have trouble with the words they say.

However hard they try, they can’t

Pronounce simple words like AUNT.

Instead of AUNT, they call it ANT,

Instead of CAN’T, they call it KANT.)

–Dahl, The Ant-Eater

 

The ant-eater pricks up his ears at this, and asks whether that is indeed an ant? And of course, goes on to do just what Roy had told him, since he has found his ‘ant’. This scares Roy who tries to run and hide, but, as the nephew of an ‘ant’…

 

This is such a fun poem, which I only ‘discovered’ when a friend mentioned it, and I loved it since I first read it. I love how Dahl pokes fun at the differences in accent in such an amusing way. Also, one can’t help smiling, in fact, laughing as the events unfold, cheering on the poor Ant-Eater, and fairly glad for what happened to Roy. One can’t help but feel just a little sorry for ‘Ant’ Dorothy, though, for it wasn’t really her fault that her nephew was quite so rotten.

 

This has turned out more a summary of the poem than a comment on it, but since I enjoy it so much, I’m going ahead and posting it anyway.

 

Have you read this poem before or any others in this collection (I haven’t read the others)?  Did you enjoy it/them as much as I did? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books(22)

young man in witness box.jpg

 

‘I put it to you that you were obviously drunk when you took my client’s instructions,’ said counsel.

Mr Tewkesbery affected to look pained. ‘That I was obviously drunk?’, he asked.

‘Don’t repeat the question, sir, kindly answer it.’

‘If I was obviously drunk, why did he give me his instructions?”

‘Don’t ask me questions, sir, answer mine.’

Mr Tewkesbery thought for a moment.

‘The best answer that I can give you is that I was obviously not obviously drunk.’

‘Were you drunk?’

‘That’s quite a different question.’

‘Kindly answer it.’

‘What exactly do you mean by drunk?’

‘I mean drunk, sir. Unfit by reason of alcohol to conduct your affairs.’

‘Then I was certainly not drunk, sir. I may have been fit by reason of alcohol to conduct my affairs. I won’t deny that – but unfit, never.’

–Henry Cecil, Daughters in Law (1961)

Image source: See [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Children’s Book of the Month: The Adventures of Dunno by Nikolai Nosov

So far, my Children’s Book of the Month posts have featured books that I’ve been reading and reviewing each month, but this time, the book/s I want to write about is an old childhood favourite which I haven’t read in a while–The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends by Nikolai Nosov.

Dunno.jpg

Dunno (Neznaika) was actually one of my mother’s childhood books, and when she found them in a book fair when I was a child, she bought them for me. What I had (and still have–most) were separate chapters of the book published as individual books, each about 20 pages with beautiful illustrations and artwork. While I don’t quite remember how many I had originally, as of now, I have seven of these, some quite shabby but still, at least I have them. The only full edition I’ve seen didn’t have all the illustrations in colour so I prefer the individual chapters. The only think I’m not sure of is whether all the chapters are available as individual books-Goodreads lists only 17 and the last I have is 15.

mites of flower town.jpg

Dunno and his friends are mites, creatures, the tallest of whom is only about as tall as a pine cone, and live in Flower Town in fairyland. Flower Town is a very pretty place. In Nosov’s words (the translator is Margaret Wettlin):

Around every house grew daisies, dandelions, and honeysuckle, and the streets were all named after flowers, Blue-bell Street, Daisy Lane, and Primrose Avenue….It stood on the bank of a little brook. The Mites called it Cucumber River because so many cucumbers grew on its banks.

(From The Mites of Flower Town)

 

Though they live in Fairy Land, they don’t have any magical powers as such. Dunno, of course, is one who doesn’t really know very much about anything, and while he wants to do many things, he doesn’t really want to do any work. He also enjoys telling lots of tales to people, with the result that few who know him believe him. He is described as:

 

Dunno wore a bright blue hat, bright yellow trousers, a bright orange shirt, and a bright green tie. He was very fond of bright colours.

(From The Mites of Flower Town)

The town has both boy mites and girl mites, but neither group wants to be friends with the other. The other boy mites, and Dunno’s friends (or at least acquaintances) include Doono who knows everything as he always reads books; Dr Pillman, the doctor; Glass-eye the astronomer; Bendum and Twistum the mechanics; Trickly Sweeter who drank frizzy drinks with plenty of syrup; Gunky who is Dunno’s friend; Blobs the artist; and Trills the musician, among others.

In the first few chapters, Dunno tries his hands at all sorts of things, playing music, painting, writing poetry, and also takes a ride in a soda-water car. Of course, he doesn’t really want to put in any work to actually learn these things and ends up getting into a lot of trouble, such as being chased out of town for playing his music. His paintings including portraits such as of Dr Pillman with a thermometer for a nose; and one of Doono with donkey ears.

photo0492

Doono with his donkey ears (by Boris Kalushin; sorry about the terrible photo (by me))

Then, one day, Doono makes a balloon and the boy mites set off in it on an adventure. There is an accident, and they find themselves in a town of girl mites, Greenville. Here Dunno is separated from the rest of his friends, who have landed in hospital, and begins to tell the girl mites all sorts of stories including claiming that he invented the balloon that brought them there.

 

The full version of the book has 30 chapters in which Dunno and the rest of his friends have various adventures in Greenville and also I think in Kite Town where their boy-mites (the Greenville girl mites also do not speak to their boy mites) live, before they return finally to Flower Town. These are more or less light-hearted, humorous stories, but there is also much adults would enjoy, besides the stories themselves of course. For one, there are quite a few fun and witty observations, like the one I had as this week’s Bookquote (here) or this one

Some people think that the higher you go, the warmer it becomes. That is not true. The higher you go, the colder it is, because the sun heats the earth with its rays. The earth  becomes like a stove, and everybody knows that the closer you are to a stove, the warmer it is.

From, An Accident

I haven’t of course, read these recently, but wikipedia points out that one can find themes of feminism, egalitarianism, and communism explored in the stories, so adults would enjoy them on this count as well. Come to think of it, I do remember the stories focusing on how the girl mites could do as many or more things than the boy mites including dangerous things like harvesting apples–these were much bigger than the mites and could crush them if one fell on them.

‘The boys think they’re terribly brave but we are just as brave as they are’ said Snowdrop. ‘Just see how high those two girls have climbed.’

‘But girls don’t go up in balloons and ride round in motor cars’, said Dunno.

‘Oh, don’t they?’, said Snowdrop. ‘Lots of our girls know how to drive’.

(From A Walk About Town)

Besides the stories themselves (or the story itself, depending on which version one is reading), I love the artwork by Boris Kalushin–both full-page illustrations, and ones amidst the text, these colourful pictures really bring alive the story, and the lands that the mites live in. (One of my favourites is of the giant watermelon in Greenville, which the girl mites use for juice). So I would recommend a version with his illustrations, if you can find one. The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends was published in 1954, and there are two other Dunno books, Dunno in Sun City (1958), and Dunno on the Moon (1966), but these I haven’t read yet.

 

Russia_stamp_1992_No_17.jpg

Russian stamp featuring Dunno.

Source: By Scanned and processed by Mariluna (Personal collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Have you come across or read Dunno before? How did you like the stories? Any other childhood picture-book favourites you would like to recommend? Looking forward to hearing about them!