Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

Recommended by: imani, more or less. Or rather, she mentioned The Victorian Chaise-Longue, also by Marghanita Laski, and I picked up Little Boy Lost at the library at the same time. So “recommended” is actually a pretty big stretch on this, but whatever.

For a while I was convinced that this book had to be in translation. It just had these weird bits that you get when you are reading books in translation, and the author’s name is unusual and might quite easily have been foreign; and anyway I was all set to write this review and say I hate reading books in translation.

Which is absolutely true, and probably the reason I have never got on well with Gabriel Garcia Marquez or any Russian writers ever (not counting Nabokov who wrote in English and I claim him as an American writer).

Instead I guess I have to say that Little Boy Lost just baffled me. It’s about an Englishman called Hilary whose Polish wife Lisa died at the hands of the Nazis, and whose son, who was with Lisa until shortly before the Gestapo got her, is missing. And might be dead. Or might not. During the war, Lisa’s friend’s husband Pierre is in France trying to find the kid, and at the end of the war Hilary comes to France to check how it’s going and go meet the only kid it could possibly be. And it’s very weird because one moment he’s all in total agony about everything, and the next moment he’s like, Whatevs, glad you’re handling that tracking-the-kid-down thing, and just let me know what you find out. Or one moment he’s bitter and miserable and thinks that finding his son is his only chance for happiness, and then two pages later it’ll be this:

He added with a kind of delight, “It’s a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from.”

And okay, officially I can excuse this in a lot of different ways. Like: Losing a kid is very baffling, and a lot of time has gone by, and he doesn’t know what to feel. Or: You can’t be in total agony all the time and you might as well take pleasure where you can like in how romantic a place is.

But I’m sorry. He sounds like Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane having fun tracking down the murderer in Have His Carcase, which is officially Very Serious Business but is not infrequently just an excuse for them to enjoy themselves and be silly and humorously appreciate the drama of the situation. And that’s what Hilary sounds like he’s doing here, although actually he’s looking for his kid. He carries on being silly for another minute or two and then back he goes into misery, without seeming to notice that his mood changed at all.

(Sidebar: Audrey Niffenegger says that Henry and Clare were based on Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. I just can hardly imagine two people less like Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, which I’m sure is partly due to the characters’ developing a great deal during the writing process but is also indicative of how amazingly differently people read. John Tregarth and Peter Wimsey is a fair enough connection, but Henry DeTamble and Peter Wimsey, I can’t see it.)

What was good – excellent, actually – about this book were the interactions between Hilary and the little orphanage boy who might or might not be his son. These bits of the book were tense and interesting and moving, and if they hadn’t been there I would have gone straight to the end, discovered what was going to happen, and chucked the book down without finishing it, because the rest of the bits (mostly) were not interesting at all. I think this is because Hilary never really settles into a clear character and that made it difficult to care much what happened to him. Jean, the little boy, is a real boy, and that, I believe, is why the bits with him come off gorgeously.

SPOILER

BIG ONE

The other thing I didn’t like was that Hilary decides at the end that he can love this boy as a son even though he isn’t sure it’s his son, and then when he’s going back to the orphanage to fetch him, Jean says something that makes it entirely clear he’s the right kid. I think ambiguity would have been better, to have Jean say something that suggests he’s remembering something about his life before the orphanage that indicates he’s Hilary’s son, but still leave the reader in some doubt.

Nonetheless I enjoyed Little Boy Lost, and I can easily see picking it up again sometime. At the library. I wouldn’t buy it, unless, I suppose, I had a massive library and lots of money to buy books just on the strength of feeling that I might possibly someday want to read them again maybe.

OMG SIZZLING GYPSIES

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.)

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel

Recommended by: http://poodlerat.bellonae.com

Aw, this book was cute.  I liked it.  There were some things about it that could have been improved, but it was a quite endearing story.  It’s set in an alternate Victorian universe where everyone flies about on tremendous flying machines that run on a particular kind of gas; the main character is this kid Matt Cruse who flies on a passenger airship for a living, having lost his father, also an airship crewman.  He meets a high-spirited girl called Kate who is on a hunt for these flying cloud creatures that her now-dead grandfather always wanted to discover, and they get up to all kinds of hijinks.   And there are pirates.

Of course the sky pirate thing has been done to perfection by the film of Stardust, and after that any other sky pirates are just not quite the same, much like all other pirate movies aren’t ever going to touch the first Pirates of the Caribbean because it was perfect and contained all the perfect things you need for a perfect pirate movie (including, it turns out, and I don’t know how anyone could have predicted that this was necessary, Geoffrey Rush.  Apparently it’s just no go making a pirate movie without Geoffrey Rush).  But I digress.

I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it’s a pleasant one, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and stayed up late to finish it.  The cloud cats were very cool, and the ship people were entertaining and amusing.