Friday, 5 July 2013

The House at World's End by Monica Dickens

published 1970  Chapter 1







‘Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!’ Valentina turned up her eyes and put her hand where she thought her heart was - too low down, nearer where her supper was. ‘It’s too much. The four of you here - well, that’s my duty, with your father gone off like a pirate and your poor mother so badly hurt in the fire. But all these animals … this private zoo …’ She moved about the room in her tight snakeskin boots, tweaking, muttering, making a face at Carrie’s underwear…

‘It’s too much.’ Valentina said this every day. ‘I’m going mad.’ She spun towards the door on her tightly-booted legs for which two pythons had shed their skins, tripped over a dog that looked like a shaggy rug and stumbled out, calling to Carrie’s Uncle Rudolf, ‘I am going mad - mad I say!’




observations: Having been encouraged by friends not to give up on Monica Dickens (I complained about her recently), I tried out this children’s book from her 1970s series (she was writing these simultaneously with the more-famous Follyfoot books); Riona’s recommendation.

I probably would have loved it if I’d read it at the target age – now I kept thinking how annoying the children were, and I preferred the wicked aunt above (later she is described as ‘mincing in a pink skirt too tight and much too short, her hair puffed out in a toppling black beehive’ – an early Amy Winehouse.)

But these children do achieve that first class favourite fantasy of living in a house on their own - it’s like The Boxcar Children or Enid Blyton’s marvellous Secret Island, only grimmer and with an attempt to be more realistic (while simultaneously being totally unreal.)

There was one sentence (yes, in the whole book) that was very striking:

Out of [the yard] was coming a small Welsh pony, with maps of unknown continents all over his body in black and white.

In a more-typically awkward paragraph, a kitten is

brought home hidden inside Tom’s shirt. It was orange-coloured, so they called it Pip.

For a moment there I thought it was the shirt that was orange-coloured, and I was planning a whole other Clothes in Books entry, with an arty-smarty reference to Frank O’Hara’s fine poem Having a Coke with you.

Carrie’s baby-sitting job reminded me of Rosalyn, the excellent sitter in Calvin & Hobbes. The whole family sounded like Caitlin Moran’s, as described in her book How to Be a Woman.

Links on the blog: Carrie talks at night to Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalas, who talked to us in this entry. School uniform has featured a couple of times recently:  in this book Em, who might be about 10, is going to take the gym tunic from one uniform and turn it into a skirt to wear at a different school, so another potential entry, except it’s hard to imagine, and the whole idea is taken no further.

The picture, of snakeskin boots in a shop in Arizona, was taken by Gobeirne and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

2 comments:

  1. Moira - It's so interesting isn't it how our perceptions of stories and characters change as we get older. You probably would have thought those kids were great when you were young yourself. And I agree with you that there's a real appeal for a lot of kids to having your own place like the Boxcar Children do..

    Oh, and I love that 'photo of the snakeskin books. Very effective.

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  2. Yes indeed, and our perceptions of 'jeopardy' for children change so much as we get older - though also, modern-day books treat situations very differently. But when I was young there was nothing I liked better than a book about independent children.

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