So, another complete contrast of books for this month’s Book Club. I think the second choice was a bit of throwaway fluff for an easy pre-Christmas read but it actually gave me quite a lot to think about.
Anyway we started with Albert Camus’ The Plague. Although considered a classic author I’ve never gotten around to reading Camus, so it was good to approach the novel with no pre-conceived ideas about the man or his writing style. On first reading I didn’t think too much of it – I struggled through the first half and then put the book down for a few days before finishing it. Usually a bad sign if I don’t finish in one sitting.
I guess I found the prose a little dry and matter-of-fact. I was expecting it to be more evocative considering the subject matter, and found Camus’s approach a bit severe.
But having discussed the themes and stewed on it a little while I realise that is kind of the point. The book emphasises the idea that ultimately we have no control over the irrationality of life. This and the theme of absurdism , the fruitless search for the meaning of life, underpins Camus’s work. The narrator’s want of sticking to the facts reinforces this world view – getting into the emotions of the characters would be a failing search for answers.
And that detached writing style really helps to accentuate the feelings of exile and separation many of the characters feel. I said at the time that this book will become a grower as time passes – in the few days since the club met I can say that this is true.
The second book caused no heap of problems for me – Enid Blyton’s ‘Five On a Treasure Island. . I’ve always been reluctant to re-read books that I enjoyed as a child – the opportunity to sentimentalise can be overwhelming. And also just reading something again and absolutely hating it was a fear, as this happened when I re-read ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ at university. I loved both book and TV series as a kid and was excited to pick up the book again. I wish I hadn’t – the religious allegory of the novel is so overpowering it destroys the book. This isn’t something you notice as a child but it sticks out like a sore thumb re-reading it now. And C.S Lewis isn’t a very good writer, sad to say.
So I had some trepidation for Blyton, but I liked the book much more than I thought I would. I used to holiday in Cornwall as a kid, like the Famous Five, and the memories of those times came flooding back. The simple pleasures of swimming in the sea on a glorious summers day when the hours seem endless is perfectly captured. Obviously the storyline is bit ridiculous but amy kid would be excited by tales of treasure maps and hidden gold.
I was also worried that the language would put me off. I hate overuse of adverbs at the best of times and children’s books are full of them. The ones here didn’t jar too much though. More problematic is the constant use of exclamation marks! A sign of weak writing in my book – I know the kids are excited by their adventures but there isn’t a need to signpost it after every sentence.
That all probably sounds mean-spirited of me but I did enjoy the book, and I’m sure thousands of kids around the world still do too. And anything that gets them reading can only be a good thing.