Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton

Found in a clearance sale at Tesco alongside the four following stories in the adventures of the Famous Five for the grand total of 75p, and seeing as that i didn’t read the books as a youngster yet call myself a cultured Brit, i thought this was an obvious purchase. The books are celebrating some anniversary or some other, and each of the five books in the set feature covers by artists famed for their work with childrens fiction; the cover of this first book, for example, was by Quentin Blake, (of Roald Dahl fame).

There are two reviews i could submit regarding this book. One as a serious, mature reader; and this one is what i shall begin with, and then a second review highlighting some of my obvious immaturity, plus a word on the ‘dating’ of the material, which is hardly its own fault, and rather the fault of the decaying culture and society that exists today.

“Five on a Treasure Island” introduces us to our four young human protagonists and a dog. George – a tomboy girl cousin of the other three, Julian, Dick and Anne – lives on a wealthy estate out in the country, and even owns an island. But the islands ownership is threatened when Georges father is given an offer he can’t refuse. But that is because in a recent storm, a ship has wrecked on the island with a significantly important cargo with phenomenal value…treasure! And so the Five set out to find the treasure before the nefarious, two-dimensional villains do. It really is, wonderfully, as simple as that. The story is pure children’s classic literature. Laced with a sense of charm, excitement and intrigue and written with so much love and pride, its not difficult to see why this was the beginning of such a magnificent, long-lasting legacy.

On a different note, however; reading as an adult in the 2010s for the first time (i know! weird isn’t it) there are so many things to point out. Positives first, and keeping the material that puts me on Jenna’s bad books till later… The language is amazing. I absolutely adore the way Julian calls Dick ‘old chum’  and it harks back to the private schoolboy upbringing so stereotypical of that ‘era’ of Britain. Most of the words and phrases had me smiling with genuine adoration and worship. I read it as a childrens book, so theres no chance i’m going to criticize the lack of complexity, and obviously its whole tone has a very ‘read it with mother’ thing.

BUT. I’m childish and immature. Some, just some, of the wording, is hilarious. The only example i’m going to give (forgive me Jenna), is in the final chapter. Timmy nuzzled up against her, and George murmured ‘Oh Timmy, you mustn’t.”

Classic childrens fiction. I’ll be reading this to my kids.

SAIL by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

I’m not sure if its this particular patterson or not, but there is something different going on. I have read a good number of Pattersons now, and no doubt you are aware there are more than a good number in circulation. Numerous Alex Cross murders, Womens Murder Club, Privates, Michael Bennets, etc etc – (my favourite is still When The Wind Blows because it was just so unexpected)… and then theres the myriad of, well, how do i catergorize them…Stand Alone Thrillers? Aye that fits. And this is one of them. A simple idea, no ties to any other novel or series of novels (yet).

But i’m not a fan. I mean, it did its job; it filled the gap between my previous and my present read, but even as a james patterson it lacked that degree of OHMIGOSH that his genuinely entertaining novels usually possess. The pace tried to be quick and easy, but there every now and then popped up a cliffhanger ending to a chapter that smacked of ‘HOW ABOUT THIS!!’, as if it was trying to outdo itself and others, rather than actually follow a narrative path of sense. Example. One of the chapters actually ends with something like;

“and jake threw up his arms and shouted, YAY i’m king of the world!”

Then the boat exploded.

Sorry what? Okay so i may have paraphrased a little but don’t mark me down for it. Its still a reasonable example. The villain isn’t a surprise; its one of those stories where you always know who the killers are, you just have to follow the tense build up to their eventual capture / escape whatever.

Characters? Nah not really. Some cliche dysfunctional family with even a cliche wife in love with ex-husbands brother subplot, and some incredibly stereotyped ’emotionally damaged kids’.

In short, not really worth the read, i’m afraid. If you’re in the mood for a james patterson read one of his Alex Cross’, as i’ve never been disappointed by one of them.

I pictured Peter Capaldi as Peter Carlyle, though, just in case you were interested.

The Desperate Diary of a Country Housewife (by Martha Mole)

This book was rescued from the bin by a good friend of mine. In her wondrous way she grabbed the book from the green mile and took a few things into account: Firstly – its a lovely looking book. Glorious brown hardback with a girly pink bookmark thing (that is currently frayed and getting everywhere, including inside my tea). Secondly – its about a family moving from the city to the country, which tenuously links to my own situation, as i live in the country, see? Thirdly – i write a diary. All the time.  So she sends it to me. To read, without reading it herself first. I believe, perhaps, had she read it first, she might have had second thoughts as to gifting it in my direction.

You see, this book is starkly candid. (Duh, its a diary!). But i have been spoiled in the ways of girly chick-lit with Jenny Colgan. So, sorry, i was expecting something of a similar ilk from this diary, which i believe is a true story, written by somebody called Martha Mole, i think. The diary segments accompany column pieces from the Sunday Times, and, hilairously there is even a bit when somebody (in reality) links the column to the protagonist herself.

However. Despite being full of delightfully human moments of narrative and prose; (i LOVE the late night drunken entry), this didn’t leave me with the lovely feeling i was wanting. The protagonist was unfaithful, the protagonists husband was unfaithful, and, ultimately, the diary is a collection of entries cataloguing the demise of what i would like to call the Country Dream, which is kinda like the American Dream. And therefore, obviously, only ever portrayed as dismal and dissapointing. Which, from experience, is NOT what living in the country is like!

I read a book by Jenny Colgan last year which had a (similar) plot, where a girl moves to the country. And ends up splitting up with her boyfriend, and falling in love with the Country Dream. This is my kind of girly book. Sugary, predictable and cheesy.

This wasn’t a bad read – it was a short one, to be fair – but it was a disappointment.

“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson

This is classed officially as one of our SF Masterworks, up there alongside 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, et al. I specifically choose these examples from the list as they have all been adapted into films. This is no different. Originally released as The Omega Man (with Charlton Heston) and then more recently in the Will Smith version, it is shocking – literally, heartbreaking – that the films have completely missed the point of the book.

However. First things first.

Its a vampire novel; the bloodsuckers are for the most part antagonists sieging the poor Robert Neville, who is, as far as he can tell, the last living human being. Most of the book takes place in and around the walls of his house. Its set sometime in the not-so-distant future. Robert Neville struggles against mundanity and frustration to stay alive.

The most notable thing is the stark brutality of his existence. The narrative is blunt and point-of-fact. Almost summing up the first few chapters in bullet points, as we are taken slowly through Neville’s daily schedule, all culminating in the appearance of the monsters at around 6:30pm every night. It is with skill and even-now-unseen narrative expertise that Matheson creates a sense of tension and frustration even within the reader. You truly do feel under siege.

The sexual frustration that is described without taboo into the story is surprising; and yet very important to the whole thing. It is a rather accepted staple of Vampire lore – but explored differently in, for example, Dracula, where the sexuality is more along the lines of suave and romantic, as opposed to blunt and animalistic.

The ending of the novel, (and the explanation of the title), is well known to most. It basically turns the whole thing on its head, presenting a far different future than you might well have expected. Its easy now, upon finishing the book, to see its the only acceptable ending. Anything else would have appeared glamourised, or, worse, confusing. It may take a few re-reads of one particular paragraph to grasp it, but once you do, it will stick with you for hours afterwards.

Truly a classic, yes. I didn’t love it, by far; i struggled through the middle of the book – but i liked it and i will openly recommend it as a classic piece of sci-fi literature.

“The State of the Art” by Iain M. Banks

This is a collection – or, anthology, as it likes to be known – of short stories by the illustrious Iain Banks, all written for other publications, mostly before the release of The Wasp Factory and Banks’ rise to deserved stardom. It includes the story actually titled “The State of the Art” which is / was one of the first “Culture” stories, which then took root and became the science fiction series that Banks would write with his middle initial.

There are, undoubtedly, some absolute peaches in here. In particular i draw your attention to “Piece”  – a title which adds no hint as to the astounding climax, which is basically a short, seemingly ineffectual account of a man on a plane. Its not until the final few lines when everything clicks into place. Its a topical thing, and perhaps a little too historical – or even local –  for some people to understand, but its definitely worth the read. And if you don’t get it, simply google the name of the Town thats mentioned…and i can pretty much guarantee it’ll be the first hit.

Another highlight was the creepily odd “Odd Attachment” which is a science fiction “comedy” for want of a better word, which again, looks as if it was written pretty much all at once, with a singular idea forming a good number of pages of exploration, all told from the point of view of a weird looking alien.

Its definitely a science fiction collection; every one of them has tendency for the space-dwelling or out-of-this-world stuff. However, as much as its worth reading, it does have a rather unfortunate fault. This is probably a personal thing, but as this is a personal review, i have to mention it. It has put me off Iain M Banks’ science fiction. The whole “Culture” approach, (not that i claim to have any idea what or who or how the culture are / is) but theres too much light-hearted comedy and satire to make it the immersive hard sci fi i was led to believe it was. Now, i could be wrong; i’m still going to give it a shot – hopefully this year – but i have doubts. Stemmed from two of the short stories in this book. One of which is the abysmal (i’m sorry, but i hated it) “The State of the Art”, which is all to do with culture aliens deciding whether Earth is worth keeping, for all its faults. Its just  a mash of seemingly hilarious asides from the computer drone dictating the story, mixed with oddly rubbish pop-culture references to films and music, which usually tickle my fancy but with this seemed misplaced. The other, a shorter short story called “A Gift from the Culture” wasn’t quite so bad; focussing on a more individual approach as opposed to a global thing, but nonetheless, the point is i wasn’t TAKEN by the whole thing. I was hoping to be swept up in the waves of its fame, but instead i’m left standing on the beach still unsure whether to delve into its massive franchise. So, if the ghost of Iain M Banks is reading this, i apologise, but its going to take something big to make me take the leap…