The Diary of Opal Whiteley
Now here's a book I believe every adult writing for children should read. Whether or not this amateur naturalist, diarist and child prodigy actually began writing her diary at the age of six, as she claimed when it was first published in 1920, and whether she really had been adopted by her sadistic Oregan lumbar camp parents (both facts disputed by some, but not all, of the Whiteleys), seem irrelevant when we are overwhelmed by the profound beauty of Opal's writing. Anyone who was ever truly a child must surely remember the magical space into which he or she is drawn by Opal and will know that no adult could write lilke this!
The illegitimate daughter of Henri, Duc d'Orléans, and his beautiful cousin, the orphaned Francoise should have been adopted by her grandparents in the USA, but somehow ended up in a backwood Oregon lumbar camp. Evidence concerning her true age at the time of writing the diary (chemical dating of the crayon) would certainly support Opal's claim. Fact and fiction aside, what is truly remarkable is the power and pure prose-poetry of the diary. If the writer was a seven-year-old, this work gives a unique insight into the mind of a child. Personally I believe the innocence and child-like imagination that shine through would be impossible to fake, as would the writer's extraordinary ability to reawaken those near-visionary feelings that surely we all once experienced as children but have largely forgotten. Sadly, E.S.Bradburne's 'Diary of Opal Whiteley - The Unsolved Mystery' is no longer in print, but a wealth of information is available from the internet, including transcripts from the diary as originally published.
City of Beasts by Isabel Allende
It’s wonderful to see a great writer like Isabel Allende (Portrait in Sepia, Daughter of Fortune, Paula, Ines of my Soul etc) apply her talents to teenage writing in her trilogy about Adam and Nadia. All three are good reads, but the first, about conflict between primitive Indian tribes and ruthless land developers in South America, is, for me, the best.
This is more than just another fantasy and another battle between good and bad. It goes far beyond that, for it touches upon man’s greatest greed of all: to possess land rather than belong to it. Very relevant to the precarious position in which the human race now finds itself… and a very important message for young people.
Sorry, J.K.! I did enjoy reading about Harry and his friends whizzing about on broomsticks, but I do prefer books that encourage the future caretakers of our planet to think a little.
(Flamingo, ISBN - 10 0007146376) Available from Amazon.)
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
A sci-fi classic first published in 1920, but so totally different to 99.99% of the genre. I read it over 45 years ago, recently re-read it for the third time, and its profundity still amazes me as its true meaning escapes me. Something to do with reality? Illusion? An inspiration for philosophers, mystics, and, if you've kept up-to-date with popular scientific journals (New Scientist, Scientific American), perhaps even leading, contemporary, Higg’s-boson-chasing physicists. With each reading I’ve been left thinking, wondering, so I guess I’ll have a further 45 years of scratching my head over A Voyage to Arcturus. Searching for the meaning in this book is a bit like trying to work out a metaphysical Rubik’s cube.
Although, at times, the writing seems a little laboured, Lindsay’s visionary imagination is so extraordinary, the imagery so vivid, that this surely must be one of the 'greats' of the twentieth century. The stark ending is, in a strange way, far more terrifying than most of the so-called ‘dark’ stuff lining high-street booksellers’ shelves.
A must read if you fancy something out of the ordinary... something that encourages you to wonder about things beyond the pages of the novel.
(Gollanz, ISBN-10: 0575074833)
The first two novels of the Story of Oisin Kelly trilogy are a joy to read. The story starts in post-WWII London when a Catholic girl, Annie, falls for a young Irishman, Bernard. Married, she's taken to a small town in the West of Ireland where tension is racked up as soon as she encounters her mysterious brother-in-law, Mick. This is a beautifully written book weaving the essential elements of human life, humour, romance and pathos into an unforgettable story. Annie's son, Oisin, appears later in the novel, and the reader is immediately drawn to this likable character who seems so very different from his siblings. Oisin's story continues in Familiar Yet Far where he ends up in Australia via Edinburgh. Again, those same human elements and fabulous writing bring to life very believable characters and images of Australia at the time of the Vietnam War. Looking forward to the third novel in this amazing trilogy!