On rereading a childhood favourite

misshappiness

This was the cover of the copy I had as a kid

 

There’s something both exciting and daunting about reading a childhood favourite after many many years.

It’s exciting to be brought back to one’s childhood again. To see this book with adult eyes.

And that’s exactly what makes it a bit daunting. What if it doesn’t live up to your glorified expectations? To that highest of high esteem that you have held it to all these years? And what, just what would happen, if you realize that this book that you’ve idolised, that you’ve been in love with all these years, is just not really the book that you thought it was.

happiness

This is the latest version from MacMillan

So it was with great relief that I finished Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it to be.

Nona, 8, a quiet shy girl, has just moved from India to stay with her cousins in England. She’s sad and lonely and doesn’t know how to adapt to her new life with her far more boisterous cousins Anne, 14, Tom, 11, and Belinda,”a rough tough little girl of seven”.

One day a parcel arrives from America, from their Great Aunt Lucy Dickinson, and inside are two Japanese dolls, named Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona feels for the dolls who also have travelled a great distance and are far from home. With the encouragement of her older cousins and her aunt and uncle, she decides to make them a house, a doll’s house, a proper Japanese doll’s house. And as her plans begin to take shape, Nona herself blossoms and emerges from her shell, and more importantly, begins to make a home for herself in England.

One thing that always stood out for me was the way books and reading were given great significance in this book. Like when Nona, who was “always reading”, discovered that books could also teach her about making things like a doll’s house.

 

“I didn’t know you could learn to carpenter out of books.’

‘You can learn anything out of books,’ said Tom.

‘A book like this?’

Tom nodded.

‘Oh!’, said Nona. She stood by him a moment longer and then said, ‘Thank you, Tom.’

And her first solo outing that she dares to brave is to the village bookshop, run by the gruff old Mr Twilfit, whom Anne calls “an absolute old dragon”, although Nona learns that he can be sweet and gentle, especially to girls who wash their hands before handling his books. She eventually tells him about the dolls and her plans to make a Japanese house. And he asks a wonderful question.

“Can you read?” he rapped out.

“Of course,” said Nona.

“Really read?”

That was one thing Nona was quite sure she could do, and she nodded.

 

Ah, the power and the magic of books. Nona begins to read and read and learn all about Japanese culture, Japanese houses, furniture, flowers, and more. She does need Tom’s help to build the house itself though, and Mr Twilfit plays a part in that.

I always wondered if Godden was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, the story of the girl who returns to England from India. But I only recently realized that Godden herself lived in India for many years as a child, then returned to England for school, and was brought back again to India when the First World War broke out. Back again to England to finally finish school, then as an adult, back to India where she lived for some 20 years before moving back to England.

Rumer Godden’s daughter said her mother wrote children’s books between novels, “as she said it was a very good discipline as you must never write down to children or use too much description”.

And I think she hit the right notes with this book – and even provides some basic blueprints in case the reader wants to make her own doll house.

 

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 and Read My Own Damn Books

 

ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton

 

 

Sunday morning reading

I’m tucked under our new soft green throw, a tissue box beside me (it’s not cold this weekend but I was stirring up dust in an attempt to clean house earlier and my nose is thanking me for that now), a glass of water on the coffee table. The husband is working away in the study. And I’m trying to make the most of my Sunday morning reading. Because it’s a fine day to read, as many Sundays are. And because I’m not sure how much reading I can do from next weekend onwards as we’ll be taking his family around the area, sightseeing, shopping and whatnot. And then there’ll be Christmas and all the eating that accompanies it! And I’m still some books away from my 200 goal!

I started off my reading in bed just after 7 when I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was more of Wives and Daughters, which I’m determined to finish by the end of the year. After breakfast and all that house cleaning, I finally settled down to finish Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden, and was disappointed.

*spoiler alert*
Young Pippa is in Venice with the Midlands City Ballet, as their youngest recruit. She meets a handsome young gondolier and through him, befriends a marchesa. She also catches the eye of ballet mistress Angaharad who unfortunately has more of a lecherous interest in our innocent 17-year-old. However, it is a mere blemish in the life of this rising star, who finds herself taking on a principal role in the ballet (Now I may not know much about the ballet world but going from the corps to soloist to a principal’s part in just a fortnight seems a bit much to me!) and fronting the band of her darling gondolier, which catches the attention of an American businessman who wants them to sign a contract with him! Can anything better happen to Pippa? A marriage proposal from a prince would be the icing on the cake. Of course that would be taking this story just that little bit too far…! Eye rolls a plenty!

And I’m now off to crack open the pages of Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End!

What have you been reading this weekend?