The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is A Room with a View by E M Forster. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30th April, 2022.

This has been on my Classics Club List for ages, so it’s time I read it – I think I saw the film years ago.

Set in freewheeling Florence, Italy, and sober Surrey, England, E. M. Forster’s beloved third novel follows young Lucy Honeychurch’s journey to self-discovery at a transitional moment in British society. As Lucy is exposed to opportunities previously not afforded to women, her mind – and heart – must open. Before long, she’s in love with an “unsuitable” man and is faced with an impossible choice: follow her heart or be pressured into propriety.

A challenge to persistent Victorian ideals as well as a moving love story, A Room with a View has been celebrated for both its prescient view of women’s independence and its reminder to live an honest, authentic life. (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I read the Wordsworth Classic edition of Little Dorrit with Illustrations by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz) and an Introduction and Notes by Peter Preston, University of Nottingham. As always, I read the Introduction after I’d read the novel. I finished reading it in June and started writing this review. But it is only today that I realised I hadn’t finished it, so, this post is not as detailed as I would like it to be.

Summary from the back cover:

Little Dorrit is a classic tale of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical, while Dickens’ working title for the novel, Nobody’s Fault, highlights its concern with personal responsibility in private and public life. Dickens’ childhood experiences inform the vivid scenes in Marshalsea debtor’s prison, while his adult perceptions of governmental failures shape his satirical picture of the Circumlocution Office. The novel’s range of characters – the honest, the crooked, the selfish and the self-denying – offers a portrait of society about whose values Dickens had profound doubts.

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens’ eleventh book, was published serially from 1855 to 1857 and in book form in 1857. The novel attacks the injustices of the contemporary English legal system, particularly the institution of debtors’ prison. I found it hard going in parts, ponderous, sombre and serious. But as it’s a long book other parts are more lively, comic and far more enjoyable. That said it is also long-winded, far too wordy, melodramatic with a multitude of characters and a long-drawn out and convoluted plot. It is a great sprawling epic of a novel.

It is satire and Dickens spares no one, but it is those sections that hold up the flow of the novel. I found the first rant at the corruption and workings of the government Circumlocution Office, explaining that its purpose is ‘How Not to Get Things Done’, entertaining at first, but eventually repetitive and increasingly incredible. The account of the Barnacle family going round and round in circles, producing nothing but red tape, became excruciatingly boring.

I can’t say that I particularly liked any of the characters, and some of them are merely caricatures. rather than characters. Little Dorrit is so meek and self-effacing and far too good for her own good. Her father, known as the Father of the Marshalsea, is a most annoying character. He is the prison’s longest inhabitant, the longest debtor, the one to whom the other prisoners pay homage which makes him pompous and full of his self-importance. So much so that he fails to realise he is exploiting Little Dorrit.

But it is Dickens’ description of life in the Marshalsea, a debtors’ prison, that fascinated me, based on Dickens own father’s imprisonment there. The families could live with the debtors and were free to come and go, until the prison gates were locked at night. It was a separate society that worked on a system of hierarchy, run by the prisoners who had access to a pub, The Snuggery, and a shop, for those who had money. But it carried a terrible stigma of shame and corrupted them all – even Little Dorrit lied to herself about her father’s true situation. Once you were imprisoned there was practically no way you could be freed, unless your debts were paid and that was impossible when you couldn’t earn any money.

There are so many characters and so many sub-plots that I’m not going to attempt to write about them, other than to say at times I was amused and bemused, caught up in the stories, and dismayed at its length and complexity. Although I’ve been critical of some of the novel in this post and I think it could be my least favourite of all of Dickens’ books that I’ve read, overall I did enjoy it enough to give it 3.5 stars on Goodreads.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 12 December, 2021.

I am delighted as this just the book I wanted to read next! It was one of my 20 books of Summer, but I didn’t get round to reading it then.

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves. (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The 1976 Club

It’s time for the 1976 Club, the bi-annual event where Simon and Karen ask readers across the internet to join together to build up a picture of a particular year in books. Any book published in 1976 counts – in whatever format, language, place.

I’ve previously read and reviewed read just three books published in 1976:

  • Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter, the second book in the Inspector Morse books. Inspector Morse is perplexed when a letter of reassurance arrives from young Valerie Taylor, missing for more than two years and presumed dead, in a case that takes a bizarre turn when a mysterious body turns up.
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple’s last case, published posthumously in 1976, although Agatha Christie had written it during the Second World War. Miss Marple investigates a murder that had happened 18 years ago.
  • A Quiet Life by Beryl Bainbridge, a semi-autobiographical novel, using her own childhood and background as source material. In an interview she said that her creative urge was fuelled by what happened to her and from the age of 9 or 10 she had started to write about her parents and her background. She described herself as a child as an ‘awkward little devil‘.

I have two other books published in 1976 to read in my TBRs:

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, described as ‘a classic exposition of evolutionary thought’. I did start to read this book years ago when I first bought it, but I never finished it. The link is to the 40th anniversary edition that includes a new epilogue from the author discussing the continuing relevance of these ideas in evolutionary biology today.

I’d still like to read it, but not right now. Although it is described on the front cover as ‘the sort of popular science writing that makes the reader fell like a genius’ I have a feeling I won’t feel like a genius and it will take me quite some time to read it, especially it is printed in a small font.

The other book is In the Frame by Dick Francis, a murder mystery. Charles Todd—a renowned painter of horses—is shocked when he turns up at his cousin Donald’s house for a weekend visit to find his cousin’s young wife dead on the floor—and Donald the police’s prime suspect. Determined to prove Donald’s innocence, Todd trails a set of clues from England to Australia to New Zealand, only to realize that someone is trailing him. Someone with every intention of taking him out of the picture for good… (Goodreads)

My problem with reading this book this week is that I can’t find my copy!!!

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …


which for me is Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 22 August, 2021.

This book has been on my Classics Club list for a long time. It’s the fourth novel in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, first published in 1860. I’ve read the earlier books, so I’m looking forward to reading this one.

Mark Robarts is a clergyman with ambitions beyond his small country parish of Framley. In a naive attempt to mix in influential circles, he agrees to guarantee a bill for a large sum of money for the disreputable local Member of Parliament, while being helped in his career in the Church by the same hand. But the unscrupulous politician reneges on his financial obligations, and Mark must face the consequences this debt may bring to his family.

(Description from Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Six in Six: 2021

I’m pleased to see that Jo at The Book Jotter  is running this meme again this year to summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories – you can choose from the ones Jo suggests or come up with your own. I think it’s a good way at looking back over the last six months’ reading.

This year, just like last year, I haven’t been reading as much as in previous years and up to the end of June the total was standing at 38 books. Several books could fit into the same categories, so to avoid duplication, for my last category I’ve chosen Jo’s category of ‘Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year‘ and added the books by those authors that I want to read.

Here are my six categories (with links to my reviews, except for the categories of Six Books I’ve Not Reviewed and Six Authors I Read Last Year, which I’ve linked to Goodreads):

Six Crime Fiction

  1. Cruel Acts by Jane Casey
  2. Exit by Belinda Bauer
  3. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
  4. Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
  5. The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson
  6. Murder in the Mill Race by E C R Lorac

Six Authors New to me

  1. The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thoroughgood
  2. The Thursday Murder Club  by Richard Osman
  3. Girl in the Walls by A L Gnuse
  4. We Are Not in the World by Conor O’Callaghan
  5. Inland by Téa Obreht 
  6. The Railway Children by E Nesbit

Six books from the past that drew me back there

  1. The One I Was by Eliza Graham
  2. Orlando by Virginia Wood
  3. A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
  4. The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor
  5. Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Mcneal
  6. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

 Six Books I Read from My To Be Read List

  1. Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards
  2. Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
  3. The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley
  4. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
  5. English Pastoral by James Rebanks
  6. Ice Bound by Jerri Nelson

Six  Books I’ve Read But Not Reviewed

  1. For the Record by David Cameron
  2. Not Dark Yet by Peter Robinson
  3. A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough
  4. The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
  5. Prophecy by S J Parris
  6. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year and their books I have on my shelves to read

  1. Reginald Hill – Child’s Play
  2. Georges Simenon – Night at the Crossroads
  3. Joseph Knox – True Crime Story
  4. Anthony Horowitz – A Line to Kill
  5. Ragnar Jonasson – The Girl Who Died
  6. William Shaw – Deadland

How is your reading going this year? Do let me know if you take part in Six in Six too.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 31 May, 2021.

Little Dorrit is a classic tale of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical, while Dickens’ working title for the novel, Nobody’s Fault, highlights its concern with personal responsibility in private and public life. Dickens’ childhood experiences inform the vivid scenes in Marshalsea debtor’s prison, while his adult perceptions of governmental failures shape his satirical picture of the Circumlocution Office. The novel’s range of characters – the honest, the crooked, the selfish and the self-denying – offers a portrait of society about whose values Dickens had profound doubts.

Little Dorrit is indisputably one of Dickens’ finest works, written at the height of his powers. George Bernard Shaw called it ‘a masterpiece among masterpieces’, a verdict shared by the novel’s many admirers. (Description from Amazon)

I have started this a few times before, but found the small print in my paperback copy too off putting. I’ll be reading the e-book this time.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: Purple, Yellow and Green Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week it’s all about Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honor of Mardis Gras, which is today!) These books are all ones I own. Some I’ve read (some pre-blog), others are still on my TBR shelves. The links where I have reviewed the books are to my posts, the others are to Amazon UK.


The Visitor by Lee Child – this is the 4th book in the Jack Reacher series, in which he is under suspicion for the murder of two ex-Army women. (I haven’t read this one.)

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier – set in Cornwall in 1820. It was inspired by du Maurier’s 1930 stay at the real Jamaica Inn, which still exists as a pub in the middle of Bodmin Moor. The plot follows a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal the cargo.

Caesar by Colleen McCullough – the 5th book in the Masters of Rome series. Julius Caesar sweeps across Gaul in 54 BC as his enemies in Rome are plotting his downfall, and so he marches on the city after crossing the Rubicon.


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – one of my favourite books of all time. Set in 1327, when Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.

Springwatch Unsprung: Why Do Robins Have Red Breasts? by Joanne Stevens – this provides answers to the most-asked wildlife questions to the Springwatch team. I always watch this BBC2 programme and Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. They’ve still been on during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not coming from a central base. Instead each presenter appeared from a location near their home.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – a beautiful book moving between the early 1940s and 1986, mainly in Seattle. The Panama Hotel has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered personal belongings stored in the basement by Japanese families sent to interment camps during World War II. Henry Lee is flooded by memories of his childhood and the girl he lost his heart to so many years ago.


All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard – the last in her Cazalet series. This is an old fashioned family saga, with both happy and sad events as the Cazalets move forward, and not successfully for all of them, in post-war England.

Caesar’s Women by Colleen MacCullough – the 4th book in the Masters of Rome series. 64 BC as Julius Caesar battles for political power using the powerful Roman noblewomen, Servilia, Brutus’s mother, the Vestal Virgins and his daughter, Julia.

Normal People by Sally Rooney – the story of Connell and Marianne who grow up in a small town in the west of Ireland, who try to stay apart, but find they can’t. This is described as ‘an exquisite love story’. (I haven’t read this one.)

Mercy by Jodie Picoult – another book I haven’t read yet and one I’ve had for a long time, hesitating about reading it. It’s a novel about euthanasia – Jamie has killed his terminally ill wife. But was it murder, or mercy? It’s a question that will divide the town as a heated murder trial blazes on, forcing them to face the hardest questions of the heart: when does love cross the line of moral obligation? And what does it mean to truly love another?

Reading Bingo 2020


I’ve played the Reading Bingo Card since 2015, with the exception of last year.  I like it because during the year I don’t look for books to fill in the card – I just read what I want to read and then see whether the books I’ve read will match the squares. I also like it because it is an excellent way of looking back at the books I’ve read and reminding me of how much I enjoyed them.

Here is my card for 2020:

A Book With More Than 500 pages.Moonflower Murders – 608 pages, this may be long but Anthony Horowitz’s style of writing suits me – so easy to read, I whizzed through it. This is a follow up novel to Magpie Murders. But it is a most complicated murder mystery, combining elements of vintage-style golden age crime novels with word-play, cryptic clues and anagrams. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out.

A Forgotten Classic Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate.

The British Library series of crime classics presents long forgotten classics many of which had been out of print. Somebody at the Door was first published in 1943 and it’s set in 1942 giving a vivid picture of what life was like in wartime England. It’s a murder mystery as Henry Grayling after travelling home on the 6.12 train from Euston, never reached his home. There are plenty of suspects for Inspector Holly to investigate.

A Book That Became a Movie The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It’s fast-paced, violent, and complicated, with damsels in distress, gangsters, corrupt officials, and plenty of dark, violent and bloody situations as well as murders.The Big Sleep has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, and again in 1978, with Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark.

A Book Published This Year Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, published in July. This is a story of love and loss – and hope. Violette, the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, is a character I really warmed to; she is optimistic, brave, creative and caring. It’s a story full of warmth and happiness and life in the cemetery is full of surprises and joy. It was not what I expected to be and I am so pleased I’ve read it.

A Book with a Number in the TitleA Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry. It continues the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted, told in Days Without End. It’s historical fiction set in Tennessee in the 1870s in the aftermath of the Civil War. I just love everything about this book, so beautifully written, rendering the way the characters speak so that I could hear them, and describing the landscape so poetically and lyrically that the scenes unfolded before my eyes.

A Book Written by Someone Under ThirtyThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, the winner of the 2013 Booker Prize. It’s historical fiction set in New Zealand in the 1860s, during its gold rush and it has everything – gold fever, murder, mystery and a ghost story too. Eleanor Catton was 25 when she began writing The Luminaries and 28 when she won the Booker Prize. I loved the pictures it builds up of the setting in New Zealand, the frontier town and its residents from the prospectors to the prostitutes, and the obsessive nature of gold mining.

A Book With Non-Human Characters The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. The main character in this book is a stray cat, Chibi, who made herself at home with a couple in their thirties who lived in a small rented house in a quiet part of Tokyo. At first the cat was cautious and just peeked inside their little house but eventually Chibi spent a lot of time with the couple coming and going as she pleased.

A Funny Book – the only story I read in 2020 that came anywhere near to being funny was a short story – Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit by P G Wodehouse. Actually I didn’t find this very funny at all, even though I’ve read other Jeeves and Wooster stories that are funny. There is no yule-tide spirit in this story!

A Book By A Female Author The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This is a horror story, but it’s not gore. Instead it is macabre and has a chilling atmosphere. It’s more of a psychological study than a horror story. The best parts are, I think, the descriptions of Hill House – the dark horror at the centre of the story. Four people are staying at Hill House to investigate if it is really haunted.

A Book With A MysteryRemain Silent by Susie Steiner. I could have chosen any one of the many crime fiction novels I’ve read this year, but I’ve picked Remain Silent, the third Manon Bradshaw book about the death of a young migrant. It is not just a gripping mystery, it is a tragedy, a scathing look at modern life, centred on the exploitation of immigrant labour, racism and abuse that some of the foreign workers have to endure.

A Book With A One Word TitleSword by Bogdan Teodorescu. This is crime fiction in which a serial killer is on the loose, but with a difference – it’s a complex novel, a political thriller focusing on the political and social dimensions of the racial conflict between the Romanians and the Roma or ‘gypsies’. The killer is hunting down his victims from the minority Roma community. As the racial conflict continues the ethnic tension rises highlighting the corruption and manipulation by the politicians and by the mass media in particular.

A Book of Short StoriesMeasure of Malice: Scientific Stories edited by Martin Edwards. I’m cheating a bit here as by the end of the year I had only read four of the fourteen short stories in this collection. I like to take my time reading short stories and unfortunately I took too long and I only finished it a few days ago. I enjoyed the stories, as always some are better than others.

Free Square – for this square I’ve chosen The Shortest Book I read, which is The Shortest Day by Colm Tóibín, a novella of just 31 pages. It’s storytelling at its best – a tale of wonder and mystery, about a burial chamber, a prehistoric monument in County Meath in Ireland, that was built around 3200 BC – older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It’s ringed by a stone circle, stones brought from the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains.

A Book Set On A Different ContinentThin Air by Michelle Paver, set in the Himalayas on Kangchenjunga. A group of five men set out to climb the mountain in 1935. Held to be a sacred mountain, Kangchenjunga is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world – believed to be the haunt of demons and evil spirits. Based on fact, this is a very atmospheric and chilling story.

A Book of Non FictionAnd Now For the Good News by Ruby Wax, a positive look at some recent developments in community, business, education, technology, and food that promise to make the world a better place. It’s easy reading, written clearly in a breezy conversational style, covering a large amount of information. She emphasises the importance of compassion and kindness, of community and on working for the good of all. Maybe, above all she focuses on the benefits of mindfulness and on positive experiences.

The First Book By a Favourite AuthorThe Dry by Jane Harper, the first Aaron Falk book, crime fiction set in a small country town in Australia, where the Hadler family were brutally murdered. I read and loved the second and third books, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, before I read The Dry. I was delighted to find it’s just as good as everyone said it is – it won many Literary Awards!

A Book You Heard About On Line – Many of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson, Nordic noir, the third novel in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland series. It’s 1987 when Hulda is worrying about her daughter, Dimma and her relationship with her husband, Jon. Alongside the story of what is happening in her personal life, she is also investigating the disappearance of a young woman and a suspected murder case, a particularly horrific one in an isolated farmhouse in the east.

A Best Selling BookHamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, was named one of the top 10 books of the year by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and is also the Waterstones book of the year. It is historical fiction inspired by Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son and is a story of the bond between him and his twin sister, Judith. (At the time the names Hamlet and Hamnet were considered virtually interchangeable.)

A Book Based On A True StoryThe Guardians by John Grisham is a novel based on a real story and a real person, which gives it a really authentic feel. Guardian Ministries is based Centurion Ministries founded by James McCluskey, working to prove the innocence of convicted criminals, convinced of their innocence. 

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read PileOliver Twist by Charles Dickens. This had been on my TBR list for many, many years, so I’m really pleased that at long last I have read the book.

A Book Your Friend LovesThe Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley was recommended to me by a friend, who thought it was very good. She was quite right and I loved this biography of Victoria’s sixth child – her fourth daughter, born on 18th March 1848. Louise She had a difficult childhood, disliked and bullied by her mother and she often rebelled against the restrictions of life as a princess. In her adult life she was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. There were hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals and was the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner since the sixteenth century.

A Book that Scares You – There were parts of Looking Good Dead by Peter James. By the end of the book the tension rose and culminated in the most terrifying scenes by the end of the book. I raced through it, trying not to visualise the gruesome details and impatient whenever the action moved away from the murder mystery. It’s a thriller about Tom who puts himself and his family in great danger after he picked up a CD that another passenger had left on the train – it’s a snuff movie – enough said.

A Book That Is More Then Ten Years OldA Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill the sixth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in November 1980 and televised in 1997 with the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles. Three women have been found dead, strangled and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet. As more murders follow,  the killer is soon known as the Choker and it seems as if his motive for the murders is  compassion.

The Second Book In A SeriesStone Cold Heart by Caz Frear. I didn’t get on with it very well. However, I’m in the minority as there are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a police procedural written in the first person present tense narrated by DC Cat Kinsella who is part of the Murder Investigation Team 4, and her personal life is a major part of the book.

A Book With A Blue CoverThe Deep by Alma Katsu. This isa mix of fact and fiction. It moves between 1912 as the Titanic sets sail on its maiden voyage and 1916, as its sister ship the Britannic, converted to a hospital picks up soldiers injured in the battlefields to take them back to England. There is a large cast of characters, some are real people and others are fictional; the stories on the two ships are told from their different perspectives. It didn’t grip me as much as The Hunger, her earlier book, although it’s a very atmospheric novel.

The Secret Garden – Book and Film

Recently I watched the 2020 film of The Secret Garden. The first thing so say it is that it is not like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book. The basic premise is the same – Mary Lennox is an orphaned child who goes to live with her uncle in Yorkshire where she discovers a secret garden. I’m not going to describe the differences between the book and the film – there are so many – but the main difference is the garden itself. And that is what disappointed me the most about the film.

The ‘garden’ is not a garden – it is a huge version of maybe the Amazon rain forest, a digital fantasy, nothing like the garden in the book. And Misselthwaite Manor has been morphed into Misselthwaite Hall, a huge palatial building dominating the Yorkshire skyline. And what has become of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener and Mrs Sowerby, Dickon and Martha’s mother? They are just not in the film!

If you don’t like modern versions of old favourites, then steer clear of this film – it is nothing like the book. It’s CGI ‘magic’ is simply not the real Magic of the natural world.

This is what I wrote about the book when I last re-read it 8 years ago. I’m tempted to read it again to obliterate the film from my imagination.

I read The Secret Garden several times as a child and the story has stayed with me ever since. For years my picture of the ideal garden has been a walled garden, just like the secret garden. The story can be read on different levels. As a child it seemed to me to be a straight forward story of Mary Lennox, orphaned after her parents died of cholera in India. Up until the age of nine she had lived a cosseted life looked after by servants, in particular her Ayah, ignored by her parents. After their death she was sent to live at Misselthwaite Manor, on the bleak Yorkshire moors, with her uncle, who was a hunchback recluse, who took little interest in her. Soon after Mary’s arrival, her uncle went abroad leaving her again in the care of servants. These were very different from the servants in India and Mary struggled to adjust.

Soon after she discovers she is not the only child in the house, when she finds Colin, her cousin, a hypochondriac, unable to walk, who believes he won’t live to grow up. Both Mary and Colin are selfish children, hating both themselves and the adults in their lives. Both also hate the outdoors, but encouraged by Martha, her maid, Mary wanders in the gardens of the Manor house and comes across a walled garden, which apparently has no door. There seems no way to get inside it – until guided by a robin, she finds an old key buried in the earth. I loved the descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, the garden and how under the influence of Martha and her younger brother Dickon and even the grumpy gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, Mary blossomed as the year progressed along with the garden.

Reading it now I can see it is full of symbolism using nature, the Bible and myths, that I never noticed as a child. The image of the garden is used as both paradise lost and paradise regained. As the garden is nurtured and begins to blossom so do Mary and Colin, through springtime and into summer, culminating in the autumn when both are brought to full health. Dickon is accompanied by a young fox, a lamb, a crow and tame squirrels, reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi and plays his pipe to charm the animals, like Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, is a plain-speaking down-to-earth Yorkshire woman, full of common sense and wisdom, who through Dickon and Martha helps the children, feeding Mary and Colin with both her words and wholesome food. At times I thought the language becomes over sentimental and a bit syrupy (I never thought that as a child). But there are descriptions that still appeal to me, such as this description of the roses in the garden:

And the roses – the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sundial, wreathing the tree trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades – they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair, fresh leaves and buds – and buds – tiny at first, but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air. (page 210 in my copy)

Above all it is the power of Magic that is invoked in this book. The magic of nature, that makes plants and people grow and develop, the magic of the power of positive thinking and prayer, of the healing power of the mind, and of laughter and love. Sometimes it seemed too simplistic and yet at the same time I was swept along with the sentiments and enjoying the experience of re-reading this book.