Thursday, January 17, 2013

One reading resolution fulfilled

Without quite meaning to, I managed to strike off one of the reading resolutions I mentioned earlier -- reading a book written the year I was born.

I first read about Antonia Barber's The Ghosts at my agent's blog, where she mentioned it as an example of the sort of spooky middle-grade ghost story she would like to represent. I knew I had to track it down, since I would love to write that spooky middle-grade ghost story for her, but the book was long out of print. Fortunately, I was able to find a used hardcover that once belonged to the Herbert Symonds School in Montreal, Quebec. (I find this delightful.)

Turns out, as you might have guessed, that the book was published the year I was born! You can see the full jacket in all its creepy glory here (courtesy of Laird of Kiloran).

The story is about an impoverished family living in London (a widow and her three children) who are approached by a strange old man with the offer of a job as caretakers to an empty manor house in the country. The only problem? There are rumors of ghosts. Just my sort of thing, as you might have guessed! But . . . it's quite a complicated story. Very Gothic, yes, but with a helping of sci-fi to make things even more interesting. I won't say anymore, except that the story reminded me a bit of certain tales from Madeleine L'Engle.

I love passages like this, where Lucy's spirits are bolstered by the country landscape:

They walked on along the narrow path which led through a wood where brilliant leaves burst from tree-buds overhead and folded yellow daffodils opened in a bright carpet along the ground. It was very different from the grey littered pavements of Camden Town and, looking about her, Lucy felt her spirits rise in spite of everything. It is hard not to be hopeful in the woods in April. (73)

In addition to the mild spookiness and page-turning suspense, there's a very sweet and gentle theme of faith running through the story (which also reminded me of L'Engle, and C.S. Lewis, too), as evidenced by passages like this:

She closed her eyes and concentrated very hard but it didn't seem to do any good. Perhaps faith isn't like that, she thought. Perhaps it isn't something you force yourself to, a battle that you fight in your mind, but something that comes when you stop fighting, when you admit that you can't manage it alone. And then it just grows in you, like bluebells coming up out of dark decaying despair. (162)

If this sounds interesting to you, maybe you can find it at your library? Or you might peruse the used copies at Amazon. Apparently the book was adapted into a film entitled The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and in the UK the tie-in books were retitled accordingly.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

11 comments:

  1. I absolutely love discovering old stories. Mine usually come from library sales. Just thought of a book I found at one that you might like - OPAL : A LIFE OF ENCHANTMENT, MYSTERY, AND MADNESS. It really was phenomenal.

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    1. I can't believe I've never been to a library sale. I've been approached about volunteering for them, but never actually attended one. I bet you really can find some gems! That book sounds fascinating, btw. I looked it up -- it's a non-fiction account of Opal, right?

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  2. Have to jump back in to say OPAL isn't especially old, but it's something I never would have encountered if not for the library sale.

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  3. I haven't read this book in so many years, and I'm interested in how it would hold up compared to my remembrance. Surely it is very dated (as indeed I find L'engle to be difficult to read now). I do remember lots of flower references - I think there are Rhodadendrons (sp?) or Hyacinths or something in the garden and when I was a kid I did NOT know what that was, and the way I imagined it was... um... wrong. Which I didn't know until I was like 30.

    Also, I found the "wheel of time" stuff to be quite confusing, I read it many times though, so I eventually sorted it out. (If you are writing the ghost story... please don't put too much physics in I'M NOT A SCIENTIST!)

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    1. Ha ha! I had to google rhododendron and it totally was NOT what I was expecting. But I did like the flower stuff overall.

      There will never be physics in any of my stories. (And I even won the Physics Award in high school.)

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  4. Oh and I should point out: THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN and the spinoff book(s) inexplicably changed the time period from 1960-1860 to 1918-1818, which would give a VERY different tone to the story, I think. The 1960-1860 one is correct!

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    1. I saw that they'd shifted the time for the movie and disapproved highly, especially because the dead husband was now a war casualty instead of a musician who died in a car accident. Bleh.

      They changed the books, too? YUCK.

      AND . . . as far as I can tell, Antonia Barber is still alive. Maybe I will stalk her when I'm in England next summer. (So far this has not worked, however, with Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter.)

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  5. really enjoyed the excerpts. lovely. fantastic idea, although i don't think books were around when i was born - scrolls? stone tablets, maybe?

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    1. I'm sure there's something on vellum out there somewhere, crazy lady.

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  6. Well that's just fun that you knocked off a New Year's Resolution (and it's only January!) while finding such an engaging read. Loved both excerpts - makes me want to find the book!

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  7. I Really enjoyed the passage on faith. Love the way she expressed the bluebells coming up from dark decaying despair. Fabulous- thanks for sharing!

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