Saturday, 30 June 2012
Grown up books for children's literature lovers
Most of my reading is children's and young adult literature, mostly fantasy and SF. However, I do read literature for grown ups too! So, here are some suggestions for books that in my opinion have the strong narrative and vivid characterisation I love in literature for young people.
If you love Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, then Lev Grossman's The Magicians may be for you. New York high school senior Quentin Coldwater is a gifted student, but is miserable, still obsessed with a series of English children's fantasy novels about a magical land called Fillory and infatuated with his best friend's girlfriend, Julia. Quentin and his best friend, James, arrive at the venue of their Princeton interview only to find the interviewer dead. A paramedic gives him an envelope: in it is the manuscript for a final, unpublished Fillory novel. On his way home, chasing a page of the manuscript, Quentin finds himself at Brakebills, a very private, very secret university for magicians, where he learns magic alongside having the other sort of education that students have: in sex, alcohol, friendship, betrayal and an insufferable sense of superiority. Upon graduation, Quentin and his friends discover the challenge of living with their gifts: if you are able to obtain by magic anything you need (a cool New York apartment, money from the cash point whenever you need it, admittance to all the best bars and clubs) then what do you do to fill your hours? Then a former Brakebills student arrives, with some unbelievable news: Fillory is real, and they can travel there. This is a wonderful mixture of Harry Potter, Narnia and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I found it an enjoyable, engrossing read. You can hear an interview with Lev Grossman about the book on the wonderful Wisconsin Public Radio programme To The Best Of Our Knowledge here. I thoroughly recommend subscribing to podcasts of this fantastic show.
If you enjoyed Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, then you may enjoy Sarah Hall's The Carhullan Army. It is Britain in the near future. After catastrophic floods, much of the country is under water. There is a fuel crisis, the country is committed to costly wars overseas and reliant on relief supplies from the USA. A repressive government, the Authority, has forced people to live in closely monitored urban areas, to hand in all weapons, and women are compulsorily fitted with contraceptive devices. The story is narrated by a woman known only as Sister, and the narrative is her confession from a prison cell. Sister tells how she leaves her husband and home in the Cumbrian town of Rith, and journeys to a remote farm in the fells to join a group of women living outside the law. The group is led by a charismatic woman called Jackie, and as Sister's story progresses, the reader is left to wonder whether this is a group, a commune or a cult? and is Jackie a rebel or a cult leader? and ultimately, is she any better than the Authority? I found this a thought-provoking read, by no means without flaws: I found the ending a little unsatisfying- but then, that is partly what makes it troubling. You can hear Sarah Hall talking about it on the BBC book club here.
If you enjoyed Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go, then you may enjoy Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. Set in a post-apocalyptic Kent, it is the story of Riddley, who has just turned 12- the age of maturity in Riddley's world. Shortly after Riddley's naming day, three significant things happen: his father dies in a work accident, a wild dog seems to willingly die on Riddley's spear, and when the travelling puppet show telling a mix of the story of St Eustace (Eusa), the history of the nuclear catastrophe and government propaganda arrives in Riddley's settlement, he discovers that the government of Inland (England) is on the verge of rediscovering the technology that could create nuclear fission. Then Riddley finds a Punch puppet in the landfill site he is mining, and refuses to give it up. He is forced to run from the authorities, through Kent, accompanied by the pack of dogs whose leader he has killed. Told in Riddley's voice, in the language of a people who are "post literate", this is an astonishing book. I'm now on (I think) my fourth copy, since nobody I have loaned it to has ever returned it! You can hear Russell Hoban talking about the book to the Guardian book club audience here.