Friday, 27 September 2013

The Little Village School by Gervaise Phinn. Warmth and Kindness

I read a quote, I think from Amazon when I ordered the book, that said this book was warm and kind and I think that’s a pretty good way of describing it. I was worried going into the meeting that we wouldn’t have much to say about it as let’s face it, we all knew the outcome before we had finished the first page. Usually with similar books we say ‘yes it was nice’ and then talk about X factor (or Strictly as it starts properly on Saturday don’t you know!) but no with this one we chatted away for ages about it.

I suggested whether, being a warm and kind book, we thought children could read it/enjoy it. It’s based in a school, it didn’t have sex or swearing in it and although there was a death I thought it was quite sensitively covered by Phinn. We decided yes, it would make a good book for children. Obviously older children who are up to reading a few hundred pages or so but in many ways a good cross over book for those not yet old enough to read true adult books but are looking for something a bit more than Jacqueline Wilson and don’t want to go down the vampire/zombie route. It’s quite a positive book to read as it’s all about doing better, no one is a hopeless case, everyone has a talent you just have to find it.

This isn’t a children’s book though and we as adults enjoyed it and found lots to discuss. We immediately started talking about the characters. Phinn managed to create very memorable characters which must have been very difficult given that the book was set around an infant and junior school and had a potential cast of hundreds. We all liked the characters which included the nosey shop keeper, the precocious child. I particularly loved the vicar and his wife and how in conversations between the two of them there were 3 people present - the vicar, his wife and the conversation going on in the vicars head!

I think I criticised the last book for its over use of stereotypes. This book also had very heavy stereotyping however I think Phinn pulled it off by really making them fit in to the story and bringing them to life. There was no flimsiness here.

I loved the names of the characters and in some way it made me think of Dickens. Don’t get carried away a Dickens novel this by no means is but the names really fitted each character - what better name for the sour faced ex headmistress than Mrs Sourbutts? Or Dr Stirling the good solid English doctor. Each name fitted the face.

I can’t remember who, but I’m sure someone during the last meeting said this book was meant to be really funny. I’d never read a funny book before so was looking forward to it. Whereas it wasn’t quite the laugh out loud tear jerker some promised it did make me chuckle at one point - ‘Well I wasn’t going to put that end in my mouth after it had been in yours’.

We ended up talking about Phinns school inspector books. Only one in our group had read any of them and she preferred them to this book. In fact she did say that she recognised certain parts of this book, particularly the nativity, in his previous books. Another member of the group had read the second book instead of this one and one of us had read both in a month (good going!). From their comments it sounds as though it too was pretty similar.

So whilst I won’t be rushing out to read other books by him. If one happened to cross my path and I found myself with some spare time I wouldn’t say no, particularly if it was one of the inspector ones.

We gave it a seven which I always think is a rather bland score – we didn’t love it, we didn’t hate it, we thought it was ok and really I want a little bit more from a book than that. I think to sum up I would say nice little book, very English, easy to read, harmless.

Next book Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Totally deviating off point, I never stop reading a book half way through even if it kills me (Second volume of War and Peace). I’m eternally optimistic and believe even if it’s total rubbish if I just read to the end the last page will make it all worthwhile. I’ve come close (The Slap, The Road, Hannibal) and not necessarily been proved right but hand on heart, every book I have started I have finished.

However after taking 4 months on and off to read Kings of the North - The House of Percy in British History, I have now decided that I am never again going to start a book that I know I won’t like. For example, Barbara Eskine (apologies to lifelong fans of hers, I know there are a few). I have read two or three of her books and haven’t really enjoyed any of them. So after the mammoth effort of Kings of the North (which I did want to read and knew would take effort) I dived under my bed looking forward to reading something new only to pull out another one by her. I don’t know how as I really don’t think I have ever bought one by her but anyway, here it was in my hand. ‘No!’ I thought ‘I will not read this book, I will not enjoy it so what is the point?’ Instead I read Jodi Picoult ‘The Tenth Circle’ in a day then Harlan Coben ‘Play Dead’ in about 6 days and am now on Terry Pratchett ‘Reaper Man’. Yet I know if I had chosen the Erskine book I would still be struggling through it.

I’m all for having favourite authors, I have read every John Grisham and Mitch Albom book going, but if you read the same old things and you don’t like them, or you become bored reading them why stick to it? Why read the same formula over and over again when there are so many books out there? Get out there and pick something new. If you’re stuck, look at the ones we have reviewed and pick one of those! Phew this has become a bit of a rant hasn’t it?

Anyway to try to get people commenting more if you don’t necessarily want to give a whole blogs worth of comment, after every blog I will ask one question and those who wish can quickly post a reply. Comments about the book itself or my review are always welcome as usual.

This month’s question – Have you ever refused to read a book? If yes which one?