It’s hot and horrible here in Castlemaine. We’ve had some rain, but not enough, and it’s a bit sticky and damp. (“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” is the handy phrase for this kind of weather). But lucky me, I am going to the beach for a week, and I have just packed my holiday reading.
I have Roy Strong’s diaries (he was the Director of the Victoria&Albert Museum), and following that theme, a biography of Queen Victoria by Edith Sitwell.
I’m also taking a couple of books that I loved when I was a 12 or 13 and had just started High School. I’m wondering if I will still love them. But first, a bit of back-story…
My home town, Chelsea, didn’t have a library when I was growing up. Perhaps in a working-class suburb it wasn’t expected that people needed books. I went to high school in another town, Frankston, a short train ride away, and I was able to get a borrower’s card from the Frankston Library. It was housed in the middle of the shopping centre, and I used to meet my mother (who, probably unfortunately for both of us, was the Vice-Principal of my school) there once a week. We’d borrow our books and then have afternoon tea together. I realise now that this was Quality Time, and think of my mother with renewed respect and love. With her very demanding job, plus a husband and three children, she made this a special time for us, adding many calories worth of extra positive reinforcement by pairing books with toasted sandwiches, hot chocolate and the Svendborg Cafe’s amazing cheesecake. I have, to this day, a thing for toasted sandwiches, and I am never so happy as when eating with a book propped up in front of me.
The Frankston Library had a rule that if you had a Junior card, you were only allowed to borrow Junior books. This kept me in Junior Fiction (JF in big letters on the spine) until I was 14, I think. I must have been a slow developer, for I was quite happy puddling round in the kid’s section, and made a few notable discoveries. This book, A Candle in Her Room by Ruth Arthur, introduced me to the idea of the same story carried on through several generations. A common device in family sagas, but I’d never read one, and it was new to me. It was the first time, also, that I really noticed first-person narration. In this story, there are three characters, Melissa, Dilys and Nina, and they each get to tell their part of the story. It also got me hooked on the gothic. Old houses, hidden secrets, malevolent spirits, evil powers that stretch out to blight future generations… Later, I was right into the Victoria Holts, but that was not until I had unrestricted access to Senior fiction.
In the same genre – the spooky story – was this book, Moon Eyes by Josephine Poole. I was astounded when I first read it, and I’m wondering what I will think of it now. Why astounded? Because it was so powerfully strange. Here’s the blurb: “The story of Moon Eyes, of compelling and original beauty, tells how 15-year-old Kate overcomes the influence of an aunt who comes, with her strange black dog, to stay at Hurst Camber. Kate and her little brother Thomas, who are alone in the house, and the way she saves him from Aunt Rhoda’s power reflects the conflict between good and evil in our world. Moon Eyes has a spell-binding quality not often found in books for children.”