Month: June 2013

The Mummy, The Will and the Crypt

TMWC

The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt – John Bellairs; Puffin, 1996

I re-read this novel this month. I had been looking for it (new and used) for a long time – I finally found it at Mr. K’s in Charleston, SC for $1.50.  I really cannot emphasize what a difficult time it was locating this book.  I think it was out of print for awhile? I am surprised they did not charge at least $3 for it.  It was originally published in 1983, but the copy I read is the 1996 edition.   I have a bit of a history with this book. I attempted to read it once when I was a small person.  But I grew bored with it and did not get far into it.  A year or so later, I picked it up again and found it gripping and intense and scary.  I remembered it a few years ago and started hunting for it.

The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt is the second in the Johnny Dixon series of novels written by John Bellairs (1938 – 1991).  I have never read the first, but it is quite famous.  I own the next in the Johnny Dixon series and I have never read that one. I intend to do so once I make a bit more headway into my to-be-read-mountain.

Is this a “kid’s” novel? I suppose, technically, it is.  It’s to be found in the kid’s section, the size and language are accessible to most kids, and the main character is a young boy.  However, it is written in the Gothic-style that Bellairs is known for.  Reading along, you do feel that Bellairs was influenced by Lovecraft.  I find Lovecraftian influences everywhere, by the way.

This novel is a bit somber.  The young main character is shy, anxious, and intense.  He’s a good kid that plays chess, is in the Boy Scouts, and has no friends his own age.  His best friend is a retired ex-military professor who lives in the house across the street from Johnny’s grandparents. Johnny lives with his grandparents because his mother passed away and his father is overseas in the Korean War.  So, the novel, though published in the 1980s seems to be set in the 1950s.

The MWC

The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt – John Bellairs; Bantam 1983

There are several elements that are great about this novel.  The first is the Lovecraftian-horror-Gothic style.  I love it.  And nowadays children are not supposed to read such things.  Their “literature” is sanitized and factory-produced.  Bellairs’ novels have this macabre feeling to them that is just not “okay” with the yuppie-parenting of today.  I don’t have any offspring, but if I did, I would definitely have this on their bookshelves.  It is not grossly horrific.  It is not filthy.  It’s just creepy and Lovecraftian and excellent for rainy autumn nights.

The second element which I absolutely love (and which also makes the novel “unacceptable” for children) is the element of religion.  Bellairs is a graduate of Notre Dame and University of Chicago.  He was most likely Roman Catholic.  And Johnny Dixon is too.  And I absolutely approve of the way religion is written in this novel.  This is not a novel about religion – and Bellairs does not make it into one.  However, he does not write a sanitized “religion doesn’t exist in the world” novel, either.  He doesn’t preach or turn the novel into some pseudo-morality tale soggy and dripping with Bible interpretations.  Bellairs writes it all perfectly.  Johnny is a Roman Catholic. Let’s not make that into a thing.  It is what it is.  There are Roman Catholics in the world and Johnny is one of them. Not really anything remarkable about this.  And the novel does not make a big deal of it – but you know when Johnny is about to enter the Crypt that he’s making the Sign of the Cross.

The main character is so interesting and the reader loves empathizing with the kid. He’s an honest kid – neither impossibly awesome, nor pathetically lame.  He’s real, which might be why he is so relate-able.  Authors need to learn how to write like Bellairs – everything so smooth and yet, so meaningful.  Macabre and not gross.  Honest, but yet a good yarn. I hear this is not really Bellairs greatest work – I cannot wait to read more and really be wow-ed by J. Bellairs.

4 stars

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

sweetnessflaviaThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was published in 2009. It was written by Alan Bradley (b. 1938), a Canadian author.  The novel won an Agatha Award and a Barry Award among others.  The copy that I read has traveled around the world.  It was purchased from Amazon, traveled to NYC, to Egypt, and back again. It went to Charlotte, NC and to Charleston, SC. By the time it got into my paws, it looked well-enjoyed.  I read it all in about four days.

I really liked the main character of the novel.  She is witty, charming, and intelligent.  The fact that she is a young girl (11 years old) is kind of interesting, because I would not have thought to like the character so much.  She is too intelligent for her age. Really, no 11 year olds are that intelligent.  It works in this novel, though, because this is just a light fiction mystery and I am not demanding much from it.

The storyline is only average.  A murder occurs at the Buckshaw property.  The young main character, Flavia de Luce, sets about to solve the mystery – at first because she is intrigued, then later to clear her father of charges.  Flavia is incredibly resourceful and independent and is contrasted with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne.  Their mother, Harriet, died and the girls live at Buckshaw without a whole lot of parental interference.  Flavia uses her freedom to do scientific studies or to torment her sisters.  The murder gives her a chance to utilize all of her knowledge and skill and, as I think, saves her from some of the boredom she must feel at Buckshaw.

The little British village they live in is typical and predictable.  There are nosy old women, gossips, puttering inn-keepers, etc.  There are also a handful of teenagers who fall in and out of love with each other.  The local church is the parish home to all of the residents and Flavia takes us on a tour to all of the points of interest in the village.   The novel takes place in 1950 – and the country is still healing and rebuilding from the war efforts.  Not just the land and infrastructure, of course, but also the psychologies of the inhabitants.

There are a lot of witty moments and neat scenes in the novel.  One of my favorites was on page 49 where Flavia is rebelling against the cook’s seed biscuits:

Seed biscuits and milk!  I hated Mrs. Mullet’s seed biscuits the way Saint Paul hated sin.  Perhaps even more so.  I wanted to clamber up onto the table, and with a sausage on the end of a fork as my scepter, shout in my best Laurence Olivier voice, “Will no one rid us of this turbulent pastry cook?”

Overall, I think that Bradley has written a really good novel.  The main character is awesome, but the other characters are a little bit flat.  I like how accurately, smoothly, and insightful Bradley worked in the setting and time period.  This is done so well, it is difficult to imagine that the author did not grow up in Bishops Lacey in 1950 and that this is his first novel.  The plot is not great.  It is sufficient.  There are a lot of reasons to recommend this novel and I think it has reached a large audience.  I will definitely be trying to read the rest of the series and I am thrilled that there are several more books! Also, I am fond of how all of these colorful covers will look together on my bookshelves.

4 stars

Guest Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

One of my good friends read my copy of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  They really enjoyed the book and I asked them if they would like to write a few words as a pseudo-guest review for this blog.  Now, they do not have a blog of their own, but I assure you, they are a real person who reads a lot and enjoys good literature and science fiction/fantasy. So, here are their thoughts:

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – M. Barbery; Europa Editions

It has been quite a while since I have read a book like “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”  I say this in the most positive sense. However, this book is not for everyone. It is not a fast action thriller or sci-fi, nor does it abide by the general categorizations that we readers so often encounter.

I digress as I try to classify it; and the novel would probably be placed in general contemporary fiction. Though it is general, there is nothing general or common about it. It has so many layers that throughout my reading it seemed to unveil and disclose a different perspective.

As I tried sifting and synthesizing the different perspectives, I realized that the brilliance of this book lies in the very fact that I could take from it that it was an examination into the meaning of life, or a contemplation of aesthetics and Beauty, or a reflection upon the social and cultural aspects, or a discourse on modern day thought and societal struggles, or a literary extrapolation of different philosophical schools at play, etc.

That being said, I would admit that the style and tempo of the book may not be for everyone or the inevitable ending pointing towards a phenomenological existence. I am guessing that these elements may be a turn-off for many. However, my issue with the book was the lack of clear distinction between the two voices of the main protagonists in the story. I wanted each to come through more as being wholly theirs.

The book is full of witty, funny and insightful sentences, which I found myself contemplating at different times. Some references just creep up on me when I least expect it and it really amazes me how astute and discerning they are.

Whichever way you view or interpret this book, it is truly an enjoyable read. It is worth taking your time with it – be sure to let it sink in! It is a book that deserves to simmer and be savored.