Adventures in Rereading: Madeleine L’Engle and Posy Simmonds

I’m not doing as well with my rereading goal this year as I did in 2020. So far I’ve gotten to The Republic of Love by Carol Shields and the two below (with another DNF). Considering that I completed 16 rereads last year, I’m looking seriously behind. I still have a bulging shelf of books I’d like to reread, but they never seem to make it onto my current reading stack…

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

I probably picked this up at age seven or so as a natural follow-on from the Chronicles of Narnia – both are well-regarded children’s sci fi/fantasy from an author with a Christian worldview. In my memory I didn’t connect with L’Engle’s work particularly well, finding it vague and cerebral, if creative, compared to Lewis’s. I don’t think I ever went on to the multiple sequels. As an adult I’ve enjoyed L’Engle’s autobiographical and spiritual writing, especially the Crosswicks Journals, so I thought I’d give her best-known book another try.

On a proverbially dark and stormy night, Meg Murry and her precocious little brother Charles Wallace come down to the kitchen to join their mother for a snack. In blows Mrs. Whatsit with the promise of a way of rescuing their missing scientist father through a “tesseract,” or wrinkle in time. Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, rounding out a trio of Macbeth-like witches, accompany the children and their friend Calvin on a perilous journey to face up to cosmic darkness in the form of a disembodied brain called IT that keeps their father hostage and tries to entrance Charles Wallace as well.

Interplanetary stories have never held a lot of interest for me. (As a child, I was always more drawn to talking-animal stuff.) Again I found the travels and settings hazy. It’s admirable of L’Engle to introduce kids to basic quantum physics, and famous quotations via Mrs. Who, but this all comes across as consciously intellectual rather than organic and compelling. Even the home and school talk feels dated. I most appreciated the thought of a normal – or even not very bright – child like Meg saving the day through bravery and love. This wasn’t for me, but I hope that for some kids, still, it will be pure magic.

Favorite lines:

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”

“we can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”


Original rating (as remembered from childhood):

My rating now:

 

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds (2007)

This must be one of the first graphic novels I ever read. Hearing that it was an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, one of my favorite novels, was enough to attract me. During the years that I worked at King’s College London, I took full advantage of Lambeth Library’s extensive graphic novel collection and would pick up big piles of all sorts of books on my lunch breaks – I got a gentle ribbing from library staff nearly every time I showed up. Anyway, this is all backstory to me finding a severely underpriced secondhand copy (99p! the dear old ladies pricing things couldn’t have known what they had) in the Hay-on-Wye Oxfam shop in April 2017. It took me until earlier this year to reread it, though.

Simmonds recreates the central situation of FFTMC – an alluring young woman returns to her ancestral village and enraptures three very different men – but doesn’t stick slavishly to its plot. Her greatest innovation is in the narration. Set in and around a writers’ retreat, the novel is told in turns by Dr. Glen Larson, a (chubby, Bryson-esque) visiting American academic trying to get to grips with his novel; Beth Hardiman, who runs the retreat center and does all the admin for her philandering crime writer husband, Nicholas; and Casey Shaw, a lower-class teenager who, with her bold pal Jody, observes all the goings-on among the posh folk from the local bus shelter and later gets unexpectedly drawn in to their lives.

Tamara is a hotshot London journalist and, after a nose job, is irresistible to men. Andy Cobb, the Hardimans’ groundsman, runs a small organic food business and is a clear stand-in for Hardy’s Farmer Oak. He’s known Tamara nearly all their lives, and isn’t fussed about her new appearance and glitzy reputation. But she certainly turns Nicholas’s head, and also draws the attention of Ben, former drummer for a washed-up band. Tamara and Ben are a power couple in this sleepy village, and stir up jealousy. Ben is closest to Sergeant Troy, but he and Nicholas (who’s most like Boldwood) aren’t one-to-one equivalents. Casey and Jody fill the role of the servants and rustics, with chavs serving as the early 21st-century peasantry.

So Simmonds takes what she wants from Hardy, but adapts it as it suits her. There are a lot of words on the page compared to some graphic novels, so this would be a good halfway house for someone who’s new to comics for adults and still wants a good story to get the teeth into. At nearly 150 pages, there’s plenty of time for Simmonds to spin an involved, dramatic tale and give insight into her characters and their interactions. One ends up feeling, perhaps inevitably, more sympathy for the narrators than for the other characters, but all are well drawn. There’s a surprise ending, too. Back in 2010 I was probably more interested in getting a straight Hardy remake, so might have been disappointed when Simmonds strayed from the source material, but now I thoroughly enjoyed this for its own sake.


Original rating (2010?):

My rating now:

And a DNF:

I’ve long considered A.S. Byatt a favorite author, and early last year my reread of one of her story collections was successful. But trying again with The Biographer’s Tale (2000) – which I remember reading in an airport as I traveled to or from Leeds, where I was doing a Master’s degree, to see my family for Christmas in 2005/6 – was a lost cause. I remembered an intricate, clever, witty take on the biographer’s art, but couldn’t have recited any details for you. I managed about the first 100 pages this time. Phineas G. sets out to write a biography of famous biographer Scholes Destry-Scholes, whose subjects included Francis Galton, Henrik Ibsen, and Carl Linnaeus. The novel quotes extensively from Destry-Scholes’s writing on these three, and his general notes on writing biography. I got lost somewhere in the documents. I think in my early twenties I was more impressed by virtuoso faux-scholarly writing like you often get in Byatt or Julian Barnes. Alas, it engages me less now.

Done any rereading lately?

21 responses

  1. Once upon a time, I reread a favourite book a month. A paltry number by your standards, I know! Perhaps I should try to resurrect the habit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Last year I averaged just over one a month, but that was mostly because of binges on Anne Lamott essay collections and buddy (re-)reads with Buried in Print. It’s a nice thing to do, but I know we’re both often hemmed in by review copies and release dates.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, somehow I haven’t read that particular Posy Simmonds. To be rectified ASAP. Re-reading? I should, I know, but so much else to tackle first ….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great fun! I think I’ve read seven of her books now (two of which were children’s picture books), but this is my favourite.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I rarely reread – I would like to but I never feel like I have the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know just what you mean — it takes a conscious effort. At the end of 2019 I set up a to-reread shelf on top of one of my bookcases, and having the books visible there has helped somewhat, but I still then have to make the leap of adding one at a time into a reading stack.

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      1. I reread Judith Hearne because of the Readalong and I found it really rewarding. I should try and reread more.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree it can be really rewarding. I found it so last year, especially with my Anne Lamott and Carol Shields rereads.

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  4. I think I did the Posy Simmonds in the Guardian, who serialised the lot. I think so, anyway. Love her books. I am re-reading Anne Tyler at the moment of course (apart from the last two, which are new to me), but I used to do a rereading month every sixth months (often to work out if I needed to keep all of an author or a genre) and would love to get back to that. I do want to re-read Eleanor Farjeon’s “The Little Bookroom” soon as it contains a story, San Fairy Ann, I’ve been looking for for years then suddenly found out the other day a) that it’s from that book, b) that I have that book on my children’s lit shelves. Hooray!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, there was a note in the front about Tamara Drewe originally being serialized in the Guardian. That must have been a fun way to read it. I like your rereading month idea, but I’m not sure I could ever make it work because of deadlines and other review books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I couldn’t do it now for those reasons! I don’t think I ever managed a FULL month to be honest, although I would have effectively been rereading during the challenges I had going on then (Hardy, Murdoch, Taylor …).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oddly, given your wide reading and my own more circumscribed choices, these were two titles I’ve actually read. Like you, A Wrinkle in Time was too cerebral for me even if Meg was an admirable protagonist (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-wrinkle). And I too, like Liz, miss Posy Simmonds’ work in the Guardian: I read and liked the graphic novel without sussing the Hardy inspiration, but then found the film adaptation utterly bland and predictable: the novel definitely has the edge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I saw the film (I love Gemma Arterton, so that would have been reason enough for me), but can’t recall much of anything about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I never read A Wrinkle in Time as a child but I recently read it and was quite underwhelmed – I don’t think this is just because I’m reading it as an adult, because I’ve recently read some other children’s classics for the first time and liked them, there is just something about the story and the way it’s told that wasn’t very appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve seen a few others say the same thing about reading it as an adult. I’m glad I’m not alone! I do think something about her storytelling is pretty old-fashioned.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think A Wrinkle in Time has not aged well. It was a game changer at the time though! I will always be grateful to Madeleine L’Engle for showing me that science and spirit are not mutually exclusive.

    I love rereading and try to squeeze it in somehow. Sometimes I just need the comfort of a known quantity. I recently reread some of the Uncle Fred books by PG Wodehouse (along with the ones I hadn’t read yet) and it was a entertaining break from reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need to be better about having a reread on the pile at all times. I’ll try to average one a month by the end of the year.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As you know I’m rereading Carol Shields’ Swann and it’s really lovely. I’m about half way through. I don’t reread much at all, usually just 2-3 titles a year. But I’d like to sneak in a few more along the way. Next month it will be Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. By the way, I didn’t read Wrinkle in Time as a child. I read it first as an adult a few years ago and I wasn’t overly impressed by it either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you for scheduling a few rereads. I’d better make concrete plans for some more; otherwise, I’ll just continue picking up new stuff instead.

      That’s really interesting to hear: it seems like those who first encounter Wrinkle as an adult don’t take to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I never finished the L’Engle series as a girl, either; I read the second one more than once and reread Wrinkle many times, but I never made it to Swiftly Tilting Planet until a couple of years ago when I read and reread a lot of L’Engle (but not her diaries, which I know you’ve enjoyed, but I didn’t click with them). it’s still a real favourite of mine, but I do reread it differently than other children’s books and I move very slowly through it, whereas generally when I am rereading favourite children’s books, I race through, compelled! (I have no idea what this means, if anything, but I do sense that I am not returning to it with the idea that it’s a children’s book. Even though obviously it is.) That Byatt is on my must-read list (I never finished it, years ago, but always meant to). Hopefully I enjoy it more than you did, this time around!

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    1. I’ll explore further in L’Engle’s work … just not that series! I wonder if it’s where my reluctance about sci-fi was born, all those years ago.

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