Last week I was completely charmed by Chris Colfer’s ‘Land of Stories’. I read the first volume, ‘The Wishing Spell’ and at first wondered if it wasn’t a little too plainly and simplistically written. I was wanting something a little creepier and twisted, I think, from a book promising a return visit to all the old fairy tales… but I was gradually won round, despite the earnestness of its keenness to entertain. It turns out to be a genial mash-up of many of the Grimm and Perrault fairy tales – with all of them transposed into a many-regioned Oz-like land in which the tales co-exist and inter-relate. Twins Alex and Conner are drawn there, through the pages of a treasured book that their Grandmother and (dead) father always read to them, and soon embark on a quest that takes them from the site of one fairy tale to another, picking up enchanted ingredients for a spell that will hopefully get them home.
The feel of the book and its dialogue, characterization and the extent to which it reinvents or subverts the source materials all feel pretty rudimentary at first, and I was ready to call it a day about a third of the way through. But somehow it charmed me. There’s a couple of sparky characters – the gung-ho Goldilocks and the sulky, vengeful Red Riding hood and the self-deprecating Froggy - who start to bring the whole thing to life. As the novel gains some pace and heat the plotting kicks in and delivers a pretty good climax to the whole thing. It rounds off well and I’d go so far as to say I’d read the next.
After that I was in the mood for something meatier and perhaps a little darker, and that’s when I at last opened up Donna Tartt’s new novel, ‘The Goldfinch.’ I realized it’s twenty years since I was seduced by ‘The Secret History’, and for some reason I missed out the novel that fell between her first and third books. Anyhow, I’ve been spending all the time I can spare inside ‘The Goldfinch’ and completely loving it – even as it turns dingier and almost unbearably tense…
I’ll report back soon.