Noddy Comes to (My) Life

One of my earliest memories of books was Noddy Goes to Toyland and Noddy and his Car by Enid Blyton. These were borrowed from the library on several of my family’s fortnightly evening visits there. Too impatient to wait until we got home to read them, I would snatch looks at the pages each time my father’s car drove past a streetlight.

 

Noddy buys a build-it-yourself house with Big Ears’ help

Who wouldn’t want a ‘dear little house’ like this one?

When it came to daytime playtime my enthusiastic reading of Noddy became part of my life. I had been struck, you see, by the ease in Noddy Goes to Toyland with which Noddy moved into Toyland and built a house. I think I also fancied the idea that Noddy had run away from his previous home in search of independence. This independence was especially evident when Noddy hired himself out as a taxi driver in Noddy and his Car. Live by yourself in a dear little house! Earn money by working! Oh yes, this was going to be the life for me. And so I travelled around our suburban streets on my tricycle (which had a passenger seat), pretending I was Noddy in his car. And I moved things around in my bedroom to simulate Noddy’s own house.

 

 

 

But not being able to pipe running water into my own bedroom flummoxed me, and using a basin of water would not have been sustainable. Unlike Noddy, who turned to Big Ears to help him problem-solve issues with his unhappy car passengers, I didn’t ask anyone for help solving my water crisis. Thus ended my pursuit of complete independence. Real life was not so simple after all.

Noddy’s ‘bathroom’

Noddy’s delightful car

Noddy was a wooden toy, though, a toy, who, somewhat reminiscent of Pinnochio, had been carved by a carpenter. Unlike Pinnochio, who wanted to be a real boy, Noddy wanted to remain a toy. Likewise, I like to think that – even as a child of four or five – I knew that none of Noddy and his lifestyle was or could be real. Noddy was a toy after all and his and my forays into games were just that – games. I simply, and willingly, entered into a ‘contract of make believe’ with my books.

 

 

Book Club Benefits

My book and movie entertainment this week was local, down to the town in which I live. More than the pleasurable local aspect, my enjoyment of the book in question was greatly increased by the book club discussion around it; I should think of joining a movie club to, similarly, enhance my appreciation of the films I watch.

The film I saw, 3 Days to Go, by producer Bianca Isaac, showed familiar backdrops of the Durban beachfront and shoreline. Summer sunshine filtering through in the indoor shots was, likewise, wonderfully recognizable. As with the setting, I thought the filming itself was well done and made for good viewing.

The story of 3 Days to Go revolves around the death of the patriarch of a South African Indian family. Upon his death, for the first time in many years, the man’s four adult children return to the family home and to their widowed mother. Tensions ensue as each comes with a load of baggage. Abusive or wayward husbands, difficult teenage children, gambling brothers, schemes, betrayal, extended family issues and more are what emerge during the three short days before the man’s final ocean memorial.

I’m not a fan of all romantic comedy, and some of the acting in 3 Days to Go is a bit stilted. But the actors themselves are beautiful to behold, and the film will find a following amongst audiences.

Family concerns and more also feature in the book The Blessed Girl by South African author, Angela Makholwa. More seriously, The Blessed Girl raises the thorny (horny?) subject of blessers – people ‘(usually male and married) – who sponsor younger women with luxury gifts or a luxurious lifestyle in exchange for short- to medium-term sexual relationships’ (The Blessed Girl).  During a lively discussion of the book at the book club I attend we discussed the author’s treatment of the role of social media, the mockery of government corruption, male irresponsibility, shocking family handling of young girls, drugs, and of course the prevalence of blessers and blessees. The Blessed Girl is written in a flow-of-consciousness, conversational style, and is laced with humour and colloquialisms that I especially enjoyed.

Disagreements as to the merits of The Blessed Girl, and grappling with the issues raised in this book made for fruitful discussion.

Here’s to South African flavour and to discussion forums!

The Blessed Girl is available on Kindle. 3 Days to Go opens at South African cinemas on 25 January 2019.

The Magic World of Fiction

Tired of your daily diet of news? Want to escape into the world of fantasy? Hamilton Wende’s Arabella, The Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut and Arabella, The Secret King and the Amulet from Timbuktu are just the right books for you to do that. Wende has created a unique South African tale about a little girl called Arabella who lives both in the real world and in the magic one.

In Arabella, The Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut Arabella’s happy home life in Johannesburg is tragically altered by the death of her father to cancer. At around the same time Arabella meets some unusual characters who teach her how to enter the world of magic. Wonder of wonders Arabella turns into a butterfly, learns to fly and befriends a bunch of insects in her garden. But even in the magic world there are difficulties and Arabella, together with her insect friends, is called upon to use her newfound powers to defeat a dark enemy intent on taking over the world.

Wende cleverly intersects Arabella’s real world with her magic one, making both worlds credible. In the two realities Arabella is required to learn, grow, be brave, make good choices and deal with adversity. Her adventures in magic are a delightful vehicle for young readers to grapple with their own struggles. The story is full of tongue-in-cheek humour, too. The fearful foe is a hadeda called Ozymandias (after the character in a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem), and one of Arabella’s insect friends is none other than – the normally vilified – Parktown Prawn!

In the second book, Arabella, The Secret King and the Amulet from Timbuktu Arabella’s adventures take her to Knysna where she meets some clacking oysters, slow-swimming seahorses and noble elephants. Wende’s use of animals big and small in his tales has the effect of placing his protagonist in the larger web of life.

In this story, as in book one, Arabella lives in two worlds. Her problems at school and with friends grow steadily worse. At the same time she is desperately needed in the magic realm to defeat a terrible monster called Krakobek. Apart from this crocodile-cum-hyena-cum-scorpion beast, most of the characters in book two exhibit both good and bad traits. In other words, they are relatable to readers.

What is special about the Arabella stories is that they are ‘very consciously South African and non-racial’. Wende uses names and characters that reflect a range of South African characters, and give a deep humanity to all.

‘I had a deep desire to reflect the good things in South Africa,’ said Wende when I interviewed him. I think he has done just that in these two Arabella stories. I’m delighted, as will be fans of the well-received books, that Wende is busy on book three. ‘I owe it to myself to make it a trilogy,’ he said.

Hooray! I look forward to Arabella three, Hamilton Wende! The Arabella books are suitable for tweens, retail at R170 each and can be purchased at all good book stores or online at www.clockworkbooks.co.za.

 

 

Add to Your Book List All the Light We Cannot See

In just the first few weeks of January I’ve come across several 2017 “reading challenges”. They’re lists that go from “light” (13 books per year) to “obsessed” (one per week). Some of these lists suggest that the reader try a variety of types, e.g. a book about a hobby, a book about science, Christian living reader, one written in the twentieth century, one about writing, and so on.

I stay away from lists like these as I consider myself definitely on the “light” side of the spectrum. But that’s partly because I have generally discounted in the count anything I don’t read slowly for leisure. By leisure I mean book club reads, favourite genres, the ones you spend hours with at night time, while in bed eating chocolate. But when I counted up everything I’d read (or at least was part-way through) in the first three weeks of this new year, to my surprise, my tally was seven.

all-the-light-we-cannot-seeOne of those was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was a book-club-leisure-in-bed-with-chocolate read. And I loved it. It’ll be a book I remember, not one I simply needed to tick off on an “obsessed” reader list. It was published a couple of years ago and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is set during WWII and revolves around two young people from enemy sides linked through war and the radio. The radio, of course, was an important medium of both propaganda and rebellion at that time. Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, falls on the side of “rebellion”, while Werner, a German orphan, falls on the side of “propaganda”. Thrown into the mix is a valuable diamond that is secreted out of the Paris museum at which Marie-Laure’s father works. The stone brings into the story themes of desire, and blessing or curse, depending on how the diamond is treasured or viewed. The characters are well-drawn and complex and I came to care deeply about them.

The chapters are very short and alternate between Marie-Laure’s story and Werner’s, until right near the end when the two merge. This makes for easy reading, adds to the building tension and draws the reader in with a growing sense of foreboding. The sentences, too, are short and the vocabulary economical (I disagree with one reviewer’s viewpoint that the book was verbose and too full of adjectives). I’ve made a mental note to emulate this writer if I get the chance to write fiction.

So, if you’re a book list person, or want a meaningful story to immerse yourself in, I highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See.

Book Time: Ancient & Old

On a single day in London in December 2016, the written word and time formed an interesting theme for our tourist travels. The first port of call for my daughter and myself was the British Museum which was founded in 1753 (according to britishmuseum.org this museum was the first national public one in the world).

img_0076The museum’s clocks and watches gallery was for us a fascinating account of the development of timepieces. I was amazed that this one (see picture), dating from as long ago as 1763, ‘goes for one month on a single wind’, and has a ‘central disc that rotates back and forth throughout the year to show true solar minutes (sundial time)’. The aperture at the top shows the date.

 

Next, a free tour of the Ancient Iran (Mesopotamia) section of the museum revealed a culture, sadly unlike today, that had centuries of peace and therefore the continuity to develop a rich cultural life. This picture below shows a section of an ancient stone library which, thanks to the translation of cuneiform, is now able to be read.img_0077

 

From the British Museum we walked ten minutes to Charing Cross Road. This road houses a number of book stores. (I noticed elsewhere the practice of putting similar stores together in one place; in Southgate for instance I walked along a whole section of road full of dentists and orthodontists; and in one part of the East End was a supply of hairdressers and barber shops [see this one below in the famed Jack the Ripper area]).

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Of the five shops we visited in Charing Cross Road my favourite was ‘Henry Pordes Books’. Displayed in the window was the book 84 Charing Cross Road. This delightful book comprises a series of letters written between American writer Helene Hanff and an English bookseller. The story captures the nostalgia of the 1940-1950s era and is well worth a read. When I asked the book enthusiasts in Henry Pordes Books if this store was the original number 84, they replied in the negative. The ‘real’ site was now – gasp – a McDonald’s. But Henry Pordes was most like the original they claimed. Whatever, the shop was full of ancient editions, first editions, books I remember from my childhood (such as Beatrix Potter), and a whole section of J R R Tolkien books I didn’t even know existed.

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img_0079img_0075As the sun set before 4pm on the eve of the winter solstice I pocketed some of the books I had felt compelled to purchase. I was delighted with the feeling that I had stepped into 84 Charing Cross Road itself, and into my childhood memories. What a wonderful time we had enjoyed.

All photos by Brenda Daniels.

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism – The Book Makes it to the Big Screen

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism is based on the popular children’s book by the same name. This British film version is set in the town of Briersville and in London and stars Raffey Cassidy as young Molly.

Molly Moon Book

The book upon which the new film is based. Creative Commons.

A suitably Gothic-looking orphanage fills the opening scene, followed by a scene in which the young orphan inhabitants endure ongoing ill-treatment by the horrible Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville). One of the older girls, Molly, hides out in a cupboard where she escapes grim reality by immersing herself in books. Molly’s love of books leads her to the local library whose plinth is marked with the words “Knowledge is Power”. Power is indeed what Molly discovers when she comes across The Incredible Book of Hynotism. In an effort to improve her life and those of her fellow orphans, Molly begins to apply the lessons taught in her hypnotism book. She hypnotises many around her from the nasty Miss Adderstone to the latter’s funny looking pug dog. Molly’s antics propel her on a journey to London where her newfound talent begins to take on a sinister aspect. A life of glitz and glamour ensue, one in which Molly lives out a fake existence, temporarily forgetting what’s really important: her friends. Her adventures are intensified by the antics of the inept Nockman (Dominic Monaghan), a common thief who is after the book (and therefore Molly) for his own dubious reasons.

The refrain “believe in yourself” is one of the messages that come through in this story. But apart from this common Disney theme, there are other more interesting messages to be heard. The city versus country theme promotes a quiet country life; the starlet hype versus genuine friendship promotes the latter; and books and knowledge form a further positive refrain.

I didn’t enjoy Molly’s London episode, and sighed with relief when she returned to the country, the library and her happy world of books. But then perhaps that was the intent of the story: to learn that while knowledge found in books is powerful it needs to be used for good, not evil.

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 23 October 2015.