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#1944club – A Guest Post about a book I love

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(As is becoming a regular thing, OH (or Mr. Kaggsy, if you prefer) has offered up a guest post for the #1944club, and this time he’s writing about a book from a series beloved of us both – The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton! Both OH and I read Enid Blyton rabidly in our youth (albeit at different times and in slightly different eras owing to the fact he’s a bit older than me….) and the ‘Adventure’ series is the one I’m most often drawn back to. ‘Island’ came out in 1944 so here from OH are his thoughts and memories about one of Blyton’s finest!)

“The Island of Adventure” was published in 1944, roughly in the middle of a four decade output from Enid Blyton. The tale of intrepid youngsters introduced the “Adventure” octad, never going out of print. The “Island” hardback from Macmillan – renamed “Mystery Island” in the United States – retained the original dust wrapper and front board design until 1966. The book featured some forty, animated pen and ink illustrations by Stuart Tresilian, making it a captivating mixture of story and comic. This was a major part of why I enjoyed having the book read to me as a child, interrupting the bedtime reader’s flow with demands to show me each accompanying picture.

In the “Island” story, friends and siblings Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Jack (and his talking parrot Kiki – with other pets and small wild animals along the way) are spending their summer holiday at Craggy-Tops, an old clifftop mansion on the coast. Waves crash below the part-ruined house, while mist obscures the view out to sea. Situated at a desolate spot, the abode has no power, relies on a well for water and oil lamps during darkness. Mysterious lights are seen across the water on the nearby Isle of Gloom and when later the children are taught to sail, they are able to reach the outcrop in a small boat. Soon an abandoned copper mine and connected undersea tunnels are being investigated by the foursome.

Various distinctive adult characters and villains help forge a spirited tale of riddles, risky encounters, being trapped underground, plus the required daring rescues. Old maps, tight spots, narrow escapes and explosions precede the foiling of some criminals and the receiving of a reward by the children for helping with a police operation.

“Island” was among more than 750 other Blyton publications, the author having been born in 1897 and departing in 1968. As one of the most successful children’s storytellers of the last century, her books have continued posthumously in print, amounting to well over half a billion copies. Following the first outing of the kids in the “Adventure” series, I acquired more of the titles, all boasting colourful dust jackets, luring young readers to savour exploring alongside the juvenile protagonists. I would at high points in the story plead for one more chapter to be read by my mother, or hers, only to be cruelly reminded that I had school the next day and needed to go to sleep.

At the time of the opening “Adventure” series novel, World War II was drawing to a close and the population of the planet was half what it is today. The next five were “Castle” (1946), “Valley (1947), “Sea (1948), “Mountain” (1949) and “Ship” (1950). However, the popularity of the books led to the addition of two more, in the form of “Circus (1952) and finally “River” (1955), written by Blyton in just few days. The first editions have become sought after and expensive, while her works have reportedly been banned from more public libraries than those of any other author.

The following seven “Adventure” series first edition colourful hardbacks dust wrappers

I enjoyed Blyton’s other “Secret Seven” and “Famous Five” stories, along with the “Faraway Tree” fantasies, which were read to us in junior school. The author’s works were also highly popular with all ages of young readers, especially her “Noddy” tales and “Sunny Stories” periodicals. The Enid Blyton Society maintains a detailed online treasury of the author’s novels, poems and collections, reflecting the growth of the writer’s literary empire, involving producing many new books in each year, along with numerous magazine and newspaper contributions.

There has been criticism of the author’s writing, deeming it not challenging enough, or presenting unsuitable themes. Indeed, the language has in recent years been updated, names changed and characters made more politically correct, less ‘racist’ even. That said, my own offspring enjoyed the hilarity of having Fanny and Dick in the “Faraway” stories, accompanied by other unwitting double entendres.

My look at the opening “Adventure” story is meant more as a remembrance than a review. This reader, or listener, at a time when his age was still in single figures, experienced the fun and excitement which Blyton had intended, immersing her readers in the escapades of her fictional but relatable players, from almost 75 years ago.

I look at my cherished hardback from the past, unable to recapture the thrill it once gave me, although knowing that long ago it did. As the character Philip concludes at the end of the book: “That’s the best part of an adventure – when it’s all happening. I think it’s a great pity that it’s all over.” Amen to that.

(Thanks to OH for pitching in with his thoughts on a #1944club book! Thinking back on the ‘Adventure’ series, I reckon my favourite was ‘Valley’ which had a weird post-War plot. Maybe I’ll have to dig it out at some point soon….)

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#1944club – opening the week with a classic Maigret

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Inspector Cadaver by Simenon
Translated by William Hobson

I’ve often remarked (either here or to myself) that you can’t go wrong with a Maigret; I’ve read a number of them for our various Clubs, and because Simenon was such a prolific author, there’s usually one of his most famous creation’s escapades available for reading, whatever the year we pick! 1944 is no exception, and there were numerous short stories and novels to choose from; however, I ended up with one which I came across on one of my trips to London over the summer – “Inspector Cadaver”.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the new covers…

I was particularly pleased to come across it in Skoob, because it’s the first of the new Penguin translations I’ve read; I’ve been keen to find out what they’re like and also how I got on the with translation. The latter was just fine, and the story intriguing – it turned out to be a bit of a slow burner that suddenly took off for me mid-read and I ended up being absolutely gripped.

“Cadaver…” finds Detective Chief Inspector Maigret somewhat out of his comfort zone again (Simenon *did* seem to like to do that to his character…) Our sleuth is comfortably established and well-known in Paris; however, the examining magistrate, Brejon, has asked a favour of Maigret and sent the latter out into the country, to Saint-Aubin-les-Marais. Brejon’s brother-in-law is in trouble: a local youth was found dead on the train tracks but the country gossips have got to work, implying that the death was not accidental and that Naud (the brother-in-law) is implicated. Brejon hopes that Maigret can help sort things out, but that may not be so easy…

For a start, Maigret has no official status. Then there is the attitude of the locals, who close ranks against the interloper and seem to have no intention of helping him find the truth. And there is the titular Inspector Cadaver… His actual name is Cavre, and he and Maigret know each of old, from a time when Cavre was drummed out of the force. What is Cavre doing in Saint Aubin? Who employs him and why does he always seem to be a step ahead of Maigret? What are the Naud family hiding, in particular the daughter? And will Maigret ever find the solution?

It was so easy being Maigret. You had a whole apparatus of the most sophisticated kind at your disposal. And you only had to casually drop your own name for people to be so dazzled they would bend over backwards to be agreeable to you. Whereas here he was such an unknown that, despite all the articles about him, all the photographs of him in the papers, Etienne Naud had marched up to Justin Cavre at the station.

Well, of course, he does get to the truth, and in his particularly distinctive way, though not without a lot of grumpiness and poking into secrets and annoying people – pretty much his modus operandi, really. What was noticeable to me, as someone who’s read quite a lot of Maigret now, is the detective’s ambivalence. He often sides with the poorer people he meets with, the victims of society who are often sacrificed for the sake of the rich. Yet he finds himself seduced by the rich lifestyle, finding it hard to shake off the inbred respect he feels as the son of a poor family. But Maigret being Maigret will never entirely let the rich off the hook, despite having sympathy for some of them. In this story he dispenses his own kind of justice and fate takes a hand at the end too, leaving you with the feeling that what goes around comes around, and that a certain kind of person will always gravitate towards their own kind.

Via Wikimedia Commons – By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As always, it’s a joy watching Maigret going through his detecting process; appearing to bumble around but actually having a very definite purpose. His encounters with Cavre are pointed and amusing, and seeing him finally getting the better of his ex-colleague is marvellous. Reading this, I realised how much I felt that the recent adaptations for TV with Rowan Atkinson got it wrong. The bits I watched were glossy and melodramatic, and that solidity of Maigret, his almost impenetrable character, seemed to elude Atkinson…

Plot-wise, I did get a major strand about two-thirds of the way in, which kind of revealed the whole reason for what had happened. That wasn’t a problem, as it was still a delight to watch the whole facade built up by the Naud family unravel under Maigret’s investigation, and Simenon’s ability to capture the tensions and atmospheres around the family was impressive. Very satisfying!

So my first read for the #1944Club was a good one. I rarely find myself disappointed with a Maigret, but I don’t always remember to pick one up. The Club reads are a great excuse to revisit favourites, and I often return to crime – in fact, I might well be heading to a rather wonderful re-read later in the week. Watch this space… 😉

The #1944Club launches!

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Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Those of you who’ve been following for a while will be aware that I co-host a biannual reading week with Simon at Stuck in a Book. He came up with the fun idea of focusing our reading on a particular year, and we’ve done six so far with people joining in on their blogs, social media etc. We got as far as the 1970s before deciding to go for a random year earlier in the 20th century, and 1944 came out of the hat!

It’s a year that has a lot of potential for interest; World War 2 was of course still underway, and so it might be thought that publishing would have been limited. Also there could be a tendency for books to focus very much on what was happening in the world, or conversely provide escapism. And works published in parts of the world away from Europe could be less affected by those world events.

A quick look at the big books from the year throws up some intriguing titles. There’s “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham (which I’m sure I have somewhere); Christianna Brand‘s atmospheric “Green for Danger” was a classic crime novel which captured the tension of the times; Margery Sharp‘s “Cluny Brown” made her debut; and of course Agatha Christie was as prolific as ever with no less than three works (one of which was under her pen-name of Mary Westmacott). In fact, crime fiction features strongly on lists of books from 1944, and maybe the format, with a crime being committed and all being put to rights at the end, was something that appealed to readers in times of conflict.

In fact, there are a number of Persephones which were published in 1944 (which I found out thanks to Simon’s excellent post about them!) and I’ve read one and own another. I *would* like to read the Mollie Panter-Downes stories, as I loved her “One Fine Day”, but I don’t know if time will be on my side…

I have a few books in mind for this week, as well as a guest post, and it will be fascinating to see what works people choose to read and write about. As usual, I’ll have a dedicated page on the blog where I’ll gather up as many links to everyone’s 1944 posts as I can – so don’t forget to leave a comment so I know what you’ve said and where it is! Simon will no doubt be having a post that does the same and so between us we can hopefully make sure everyone is featured.

So do feel free to join in with the #1944Club – there are some interesting and varied books to be read from that year, and I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

#1944club – one week and counting… :)

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Just a little reminder that in a week’s time, Simon at Stuck in a Book and I will be launching the #1944club! As with our previous reading weeks, we’ll be encouraging you all to read, explore, share and write about books from a particular years, and 1944 is the one in question.

Things kick off on Monday 15th October, and I have to confess that I’ve already started reading up in advance of the launch (I think Simon has too!) It’s an intriguing year, and I can’t wait to hear about what everyone’s reading. So do join in and share your #1944club reads – either here or at Simon’s blog. It should be great fun! 🙂

Coming up next! (well, in six months’ time….) – 1944!

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The 1977 Club is over, and what a success! So many of you took part – thank you! – and it was fascinating seeing what books you’d discovered, read and discussed. I know some were hoping the next club would move on to the 1980s, but I think that was a bit of a bridge too far for Simon and myself. So when we discussed the options for choosing the next date, we did consider going back to the 1920s again, then Simon came up with the clever idea of going for a random year. I liked that a lot too, and so Simon did all the hard with random.org (as well as designing the logo) and the result was – 1944!

As Simon mentions in his post, this is the first time we’ve chosen a wartime year, so there could be a number of interesting works to read here. You have six months to plan, and we hope as many of you as possible of you will join in. There’s plenty of preparation time – so let’s get searching the stacks! 🙂

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