Posted in Books I have read

#BooktrailAdvent Day 11 – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Booktrail Advent

Here it is Booktrail Advent Day 11 and we are going to the City of London to visit, what for me, is the iconic Christmas story; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, do go and check out The Book Trail blog, they take us on tours all over the world

A Christmas Carol

The Trail

Much of A Christmas Carol is set in the City of London – a tiny square mile (or actually just over) which is still the home to the major banks in England.

Unfortunately the exact locations for much of the action isn’t clear but some detective work has yielded some good guesses.
Marley & Scrooge’s Counting House is not far from the Bank of England & The Royal Exchange
It must be close to Cornhill which is where Bob Cratchit slides down the ice when he leaves work on Christmas Eve.
Bob Cratchit lives outside the City of London in Camden Town.
After Scrooge has locked up on Christmas Eve he retires to a melancholy tavern probably Simpson’s in Ball Court Alley, to eat his melancholy dinner.
Of course it is when Scrooge returns to his home that Christmas Eve that everything takes a turn for the worse as the ghostly face of his long-deceased partner, Jacob Marley, briefly materialises on the door knocker
It is probable that Scrooge lived close to his workplace, one likely location being in Lime Street, an address in those days which was sounds far from salubrious!
‘A gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had little business to be…’
‘The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands’
There is no doubt that this book is set in London with mentions of the lunatic asylum, Bedlam (now the site of the Imperial War Museum) for those who celebrate Christmas (according to scrooge) and The Houses of Parliament where Scrooge suggests his nephew gives his impassioned speech. There are fleeting mentions of the Mayor’s house – Mansion House close to Scrooge’s Counting House as well as a reference to St Paul’s.

I chose A Christmas Carol for my day on The Booktrail Advent because I was captivated from my first reading aged about ten years old. A book that is a longer extension of a fable, a book which reminds us all that a life filled with kindness and love is far more rewarding than one whose main motivation is greed and avarice. In true Dickens style it is full of horrible images, just right for the ghoulish child that I was and I have enjoyed these just as much during my frequent re-readings as an adult.

Of course A Christmas Carol doesn’t really require a review and the journey that Scrooge goes on that Christmas Eve in 1843 doesn’t just follow the familiar streets where he’d spent his adult life striving to make as much money as possible. Oh no Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey first took him on a time travelling journey.

First it is his former partner Marley’s Ghost that visits him with a stark warning that he needs to change his ways, impressing on him that if he carries on his afterlife will be miserable.

Marley's Ghost

But clearly this message needed some proper hammering home, so along comes The Ghost of Christmas Past. The scenes of Ebenezer’s sad and lonely childhood followed by his apprenticeship to the kind Mr Fezziwig are spread in front of him and time travels on until we see that Ebenezer’s life could have been different but it wasn’t to be – his relationship with Belle failed as she suspected his love of money was greater than his love for her. Unhappy and alone Scrooge simply threw himself ten times harder and more determinedly into making money.

The Ghost of Christmas Present follows hard on his heels and Ebenezer is taken to Bob and Mrs Cratchit’s home where he feels genuine concern for Tiny Tim’s health but no time to stop there are plenty more celebrations to behold in London so off he goes to his nephew Fred’s house for another celebration. The Ghost of Christmas Present doesn’t pander to Scrooge’s growing compassion, instead he throws Scrooge’s favourite sayings back in his face.

Still reeling from his journey The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come appears and Scrooge hurtles one year into the future where poor Tiny Tim has died because of his father’s lack of money and then Scrooge is given the vision of his own death, not just a death that passes without mourning but one that is relished by the other traders, his housekeeper and those who he’d lent money to.

Scrooge has learnt his lesson and when he awakens on Christmas morning, he is a changed man and he spends his Christmas day celebrating with his nephew Fred. Bob Cratchit is given a raise when he returns to work on Boxing Day which of course means that Tiny Tim leads a long and heathier life. The change is permanent and we have to hope that Scrooge lives a long fulfilling life paying his workers a decent wage having turned his back on unscrupulous money-lending practices.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit

Of course as an adult I understand that Dickens was making points far wider than the fable I took the tale to be at ten. His determined championing of the poor, particular in the realm of education for the young and in this tale he uses the plight of Ignorance and Want to put in his plea for education for all.

original_carol_ignorance_wa

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows the twins, wretched and almost animal in appearance, to Scrooge with the warning: “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

I do hope you enjoyed this whistle stop tour of this iconic Christmas tale.

Posted in Weekly Posts

Musing Mondays (October 28)

musingmondays51

Hosted by Should Be Reading
Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…• Describe one of your reading habits.

• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).

• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!

• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

After my detour last week I’m back to My Life in Books.

This week I’m going to talk about reading at school….

So being a summer baby I actually started school in the term following my fifth birthday already able to read. Mum had harnessed my enthusiasm for books and with the help of Peter and Jane (and Pat the dog) I was a reasonably fluent reader by the time I started school.

Cover Peter and Jane

Inside Peter and Jane

 

 

This (sexist) reading scheme aimed to give children the ability to read words by the way they looked and as far as I can tell worked well for me (I actually had this set of books for when my children were learning to read, it worked for one, the other wasn’t interested!)

Alongside these I ‘read’ the books I borrowed from the library and then I went to school.

The first school I went to used Through The Rainbow reading scheme. I opened page one, was seriously underwhelmed by the lack of words but ok until I realised that when the teacher called my name I was expected to read to her in front of the class! No way – I was a very shy child and stuttered my way through the pages and was sent home with the book. Mum got in a tizz because I needed something more challenging and the whole reading out aloud got more and more of an ordeal so I very slowly inched my way through these boring books.

Through The Rainbow

I then changed schools to a very progressive 70’s school, animals in the classroom and grounds, and a very easy-going attitude to set learning styles. I look back and wonder how I learnt anything, but I did, and best of all there was no reading scheme! No competition about what book I was on and I went back to reading what I wanted (which was lots of different books with a wide range of ‘reading ages’) The result was a far happier young reader.

Unfortunately at 9 we moved and another change of school and another reading scheme. I think this one was mermaids but that may just have been the title I was given. Despite still being very shy, I told the teacher I didn’t need a reading scheme. They tried, I tried a little harder to comply and then they let me choose what I wanted to read from their small selection. I think I won them over by reading A Christmas Carol and managed to tell them all about it and so I said goodbye to the hated reading scheme!

A Christmas Carol

As an adult I understand that teachers want to know what stage each of their pupils has reached at a given time but my feeling even now is that learning how to read needs to be as interesting as possible and use a variety of methods. Children are all individuals! Thankfully these days standing up and reading in front of the class no longer appears to happen!

I then went to secondary school and soon realised with our first read Smith by Leon Garfield that reading it all in a couple of evenings wasn’t what was expected!

Smith

This brilliant, picaresque novel follows the adventures of an illiterate young ragamuffin known only as Smith. Smith picks the pocket of a stranger, only to witness immediately the strangers murder. Smiths booty from the theft is an Important Document, no doubt worth quite a lot to somebody, which is proved by the pursuit of Smith by two very shady characters. Smith artfully dodges them and winds up in the odd company of a wealthy blind man, who takes Smith into his home and provides him with an education. But this new comfort is lost when Smith himself is suspected of the very murder he witnessed. Goodreads

Also once again we were back to reading aloud to the class. So there I was all buttoned up into a skirt and blazer about five sizes to big anxiously waiting my turn to read my paragraph. Fortunately my surname began with M so it was a few weeks before it was my turn! By the time we got to the end of reading the book in ‘slow motion’ with set pages to be read at home and discussed at length, despite initially enjoying the book, I hated Smith with a vengeance.

Happily in time I got to appreciate the dissection of the text so by the time I did my ‘O’ Levels I could discuss phrases in Macbeth at ease, along with War and People Poems, and Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and English Lit was my favourite lesson.

O level texts

What are your memories of reading at school? Thinking back over my experiences it is credit to my mother that the reading habit was already ingrained by the time I reached school. I can see now that the experience could have totally put me off if I hadn’t already loved books and I can’t imagine my life without books!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Bellman & Black – Diane Setterfield

Ghost Story 4*'s
Ghost Story
4*’s

Blurb

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

Having fallen in love with A Thirteenth Tale (you can see it is still on the bookshelf in my header), I have been eagerly watching out for Diane Setterfield’s next book. For a while Amazon said Untitled with a release date of 2012, then it went to 2013 so I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever happen. It did and the title was to be Bellman & Black.

Reviews began to pop up about this book, and if I’m honest most were lukewarm at best, so I lowered my expectations and realised that this was going to be a different reading experience to her first book.

I will now stop with the comparisons and review this book on its own merits.

The book itself bills this story as a ghost story. My initial impression on finishing it, was, that it reminded me in some elusive way of Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, as it had that moralistic feel to it, although the moral appeared to be a more modern concept than the Victorian time period it is set in.

We first meet Bellman as a ten year old boy playing in the fields with his cousin Charles and friends Luke and Fred. He demonstrates his creativity in solving problems when he hits a rook off a branch killing it. The boys are both fascinated and horrified in the special way ten year olds can be, but they get on with the business of growing up. As the reader we meet them later on when they are all adults.

This isn’t a fast moving book, there is an awful lot about business. William is involved with the running of his uncle’s mill and he is clearly clever, good with figures and exceptionally good at solving problems and presenting viable solutions. I found this interesting, as I did the other informative parts of the book which include Victorian mourning rituals and facts about the crow family. I particularly liked these which are spread throughout the book as footnotes. Diane Setterfield clearly demonstrates her skill as a writer with some of the drier parts of this book, as if I’m honest, I kept waiting for something to happen but was entranced enough to keep reading without becoming too frustrated.

This isn’t going to be the book for you if you want action because even now I’ve turned the last page and reflected, not a great deal happened. I’m not sure what normal ghost stories are like as this isn’t a type of book I seek out but this didn’t scare me as I felt the worst had already happened to William,and that was life and not ghosts. This story is about love, loss and death but in a quite remote way as we see William’s reaction to these events as a spectator, I didn’t feel connected to him although I sympathised with him.

If you want to lose yourself in some authentic-feeling Victorian novel then try this. I found it more of an informative read than an entertaining read but one done with great style. I do love the cover which I know isn’t a reason to buy a book but it does help to wear a good jacket!

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in return for my opinion in this review.