Siberia; August 15th

It’s August 15th!  Happy Independence Day, India!  Where my excellent friend is and I hope she is having a good time teaching children!  And Happy Assumption of the Virgin Day, Catholics!  I didn’t go to church today despite its being a holy day of obligation, but never mind, I will go another time.  And, says my newspaper, and Wikipedia agrees with me, it is also happy birthday to Phyllis Schlafly, which I normally wouldn’t mention except it’s such a coincidence because I was just thinking about her the other day reading The Handmaid’s Tale!

(When I was in high school and my mum was getting her degree in theology, she had this book called Texts of Terror, by an excellent scholar of Biblical feminism called Phyllis Trible.  And I always scowled at it blackly on the bookshelf when I saw it because I thought it was Phyllis Schlafly, and I knew I didn’t care for Phyllis Schlafly.  And then one time I pulled it out and looked at it properly, and discovered it was close readings of several Biblical incidents involving harm to women.  Not Phyllis Schlafly at all.  Phyllis Trible is someone totally different.)

But on to Ann Halam‘s Siberia, which I read about on Sharry’s blog.  Another YA dystopia book – apparently I can’t get enough of these.  In this case, Sloe and her mother grow up in a snowy wasteland of wretchedness, having been banished thither due to her mother’s scientist proclivities.  The unpleasant future here includes not only lots of hateful government taking people off and killing/banishing them, but no wild animals at all left in the world.  Sloe’s mum is the secret guardian of “seed kits”, which contain the seeds of animals that will allow the earth to be repopulated someday.  Their mission is to bring the kits eventually to a city where they will be safe.

This didn’t really work for me.  Maybe I am dystopia’d out.  This world didn’t feel real, and neither did Sloe’s quest to bring her little seed animals to safety – how could they really use them to repopulate the earth, with the government in power?  They’d just get shot!  I didn’t get a sense of the way the government works, or how the world had ironed itself out (like where were the luxury people that apparently exist?  I don’t know!  It was confusing!), and I didn’t think the seed kit animals were well-explained.  Plus, here are some spoilers for you, I was mad that Sloe’s mum was alive in the end.  I thought the story lacked an emotional punch, and I think it was partly because the environment didn’t seem terribly threatening (as evidenced by Sloe’s mum’s survival).

On the other hand, I was reading it at the hospital, an atmosphere not conducive to reading pleasure, and I have to admit, I was flying through and possibly not paying much attention to it.  I think it could have done with some more fleshing out of the world they live in, but my other criticisms may be completely unfair.  And why am I mad that the mum survived?  I always want people’s loved ones to survive in dystopian books!  Sheesh.

What Happened in Hamelin, Gloria Skurzynski

I’ve been such a schizophrenic reader lately.  I’ve not gotten any books out of the library for the past several weeks, because I’ve been reading Harry Potter and Martin Millar, and planning to get started on Shakespeare.  However, the last time I went through reading all the book blogs I read, there were so many books that appealed to me.  And I wrote them all down but I was all on board with finishing up my Harry Potter & Shakespeare reading before carrying on to new things.

Ah, and then Obama got elected, and I got an unexpected check from my old job.  It’s a perilous combination for me to be both extraordinarily happy and extremely emotional.  It makes me want to make other people happy.  I was listening to NPR while I was driving to the mall yesterday, and I was crying and thinking that when I got back to my apartment I was going to donate a thousand dollars to them because they made me feel so happy with their inspirational stories about Obama celebrations.  And then when I got to the mall I went to Border’s and I was all I HAVE TO BUY BOOKS FROM HERE SO BORDER’S WILL NOT BE MADE SAD BY THE FAILURE OF THEIR STORE AND EVERYONE MUST BE HAPPY BECAUSE WE ARE HISTORIC TODAY.  However, I refrained from both of these things (except I did buy a guitar book at Border’s, because I was so happy and I had no other outlet) (and I also went to the place where I used to work a few summers ago, and I hugged everyone there exuberantly and bought a shirt and two really nice pens).  Instead I went to the library and get a whole bunch of books, including What Happened in Hamelin, which I read about on Jeane’s blog, Dog Ear DiaryWhat Happened in Hamelin is, as you may have begun to suspect, a retelling of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The Pied Piper – they call him Gast – is portrayed as a brilliant, charismatic, unscrupulous man, who uses crafty means to Harold-Hill the residents into doing everything he wants, and then getting rid of their rats while winning over every person in the town.  Chief amongst them (at least at first) is a fourteen-year-old orphan called Geist, who feels some uneasiness about the stranger’s methods but finds it hard to resist the attention he’s getting as Gast’s right-hand man.

It’s an interesting take on the Hamelin story.  Gast thinks of a clever way to get rid of the rats, and the thing he does with the children is also clever.  The whole thing isn’t as far-fetched as you might expect an explanation of the Pied Piper story to be – actually, it seemed rather plausible to me.  You know, sad, but plausible.

This book was damn unsettling.  It was already unsettling before I got to the end where – spoilers – Gast leads all the children through a mountain pass in order to sell them to some guys he’s presumably got on retainer.  I just found it thoroughly disturbing that Gast was using his charm to get these kids away from their parents and off to be sold, and that was his plan all along.  If I had read this book when I was a little girl it would have given me nightmares.  As a grown-up, I was still bothered by it, but I really, really enjoyed it.  Thanks, Jeane, for the excellent book recommendation!

P.S. Want to hear something sad?  I know you do.  The first written record in the actual town of Hamelin is in the chronicles in 1384 and says “It is ten years since our children left.”  It’s true.  I read it on Wikipedia.


Or, I didn’t know the third Libba Bray book was out already!

Actually, ultimately, I am not that huge a fan of these books.  They entertain me but I can’t remember a single character’s name except Gemma.  I can’t even remember the sexy gypsy boy’s name, just that Gemma was having Totally Shocking Dreams about him the likes of which no nice Victorian girl would repeat to a biographer.  So basically I am not going to live or die by what happens in The Sweet Far Thing (not sure about this title), but I will be chagrined if the sexy gypsy and Gemma don’t hook up in the end.

Er, I am not shallow.  I do not require happy tidy romantic endings to all of my books.  I was really, really glad that I Capture the Castle ended the way it did.  I was!  And the same for I’m sure many other books and films where the two characters who were having sexual tension did not get together and live happily ever after, but I’m just having a hard time thinking of them right now.   All I can think of is things that caused me chagrin, like how Tashi went insane after the end of The Color Purple and Adam had an affair.  (Poo.)

Well, this steaming rollercoaster of a novel with some sizzling gypsies thrown in will have to wait, because my library isn’t letting us put holds on it yet on account of its being so new.  Perhaps I will pay a visit to Barnes & Noble and read it there.  Under plain covers.  Also (I blush to confess it) The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants fourth book, which I actually don’t think is a very good series but I am curious about what happens.  If only one could depend on not seeing anyone one knows.

(Just looked it up on Wikipedia – the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye – and apparently what happens is sex.  Sex, sex, sex.  I don’t think these girls are the role models they should be.  I am shocked, shocked, at their behavior, and I don’t think the author should be propagating nasty myths like about young girls not even in their twenties having extramarital sex.  Unless they are Victorian girls with massive crushes on sexy gypsy boys.)