Monthly Archives: October 2013

80/86. Double Act/Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson

I’ve been a very bad blogger of late and I’m going to use that old excuse of “I’ve been working every hour of the day and night” which is extremely blasé but also extremely true. I’m in work right now but I mucked up yesterday so came all the way in for nothing. I’m rewarding my own incompetence with a double review of two books from The List.

I was a huge fan of Jacqueline Wilson when I was younger (and still am come to that) but I’d never heard of Vicky Angel until it turned up on The List. So obviously I had to give it a read. Double Act I’m fairly certain I did read when I was in the target age group but I don’t remember very well so I thought I’d reread that as well. 

For anyone unlucky enough as to be unfamiliar with the work of Jacqueline Wilson, she is an incredibly prolific British author who has written over 100 books predominantly aimed at young readers. Despite the age of her target audience, Wilson doesn’t shy away from big issues, her books often contain themes of adoption, divorce, death, drug abuse and mental illness. Although these are very controversial issues to address for a young audience, Wilson is arguably one of the most popular authors of our time having sold over 30 million copies of her books in the UK alone. And she has four books in The List I’m working through, a number that equals Roald Dahl and JK Rowling and is beaten only by Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett (an odd pairing).

Vicky AngelTrue to form, Vicky Angel is a hard read which deals with the grief Jade faces when her best friend is knocked down and killed in front of her. Jade always hid behind Vicky and finding herself alone she is unsure what to do with herself. Until Vicky comes back, larger than life and twice as mean. The main theme of this book is grief and how it is best to let go of the person who died rather than cling to them and let the memory of their presence and your grief over their loss rule your life. But I read it slightly differently. When I was the same age as Jade, I had a friend who treated me in a similar way to Vicky. She was always putting me down, making me do what she wanted and asking me to choose between her and my other friends. It’s easy to look back now and see her for what she was but at the time I was too weak as a person to tell her where to go. For me, that’s what this book was about, learning to stand up for yourself and say no to the people you think are your friends. Another valuable life lesson from Jacqueline Wilson.

Double ActDouble Act is along very similar lines. It features Ruby and Garnet, identical twin sisters who dream of becoming movie stars. Or at least Ruby does and Garnet goes along with her. As in Vicky Angel this is a very one-sided relationship, Garnet is happy to go along with whatever Ruby wants and her own wishes get lost along the way. Although the message here seems to be more along the lines of; if you’re patient and good then in the end it will all work out. I didn’t like this book quite as much as I felt the message was a bit lacklustre and it seemed a bit flat compared to some of Wilson’t other work.

The majority of Wilson’s book are told in the 1st person but in Double Act the viewpoint alternates between the twins with Ruby hogging most of the good parts and Garnet telling the harder elements of the story or taking over when Ruby’s in a strop. this added an extra dimension to the story as you get to know both twins and fully understand their relationship. Another thing I liked about this book is that instead of having one illustrator (the wonderful Nick Sharratt) as usual, each twin has their own illustrator (Ruby by Nick Sharratt and Garnet by Sue Heap) yet despite this they still appear identical. I can only imagine how long the two illustrators must have worked together to get their drawings so similar!

Wilson’s writing always manages to maintain an air of humour despite her heavy subjects and she makes her protagonists very relatable, even when they’re not particularly nice that it is easy to see why she remains one of the UK’s favourite authors and I hope she continues reaching out to children through stories for many years to come.

Q: When is an introduction not an introduction?

A: When it’s a spoiler.

I’ve been reading a lot of classics over the last couple of years, filling in the gaps on The List, and the spoiler-introduction is something I’ve come across a few times. I’m here to say: I don’t like it.

For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean, I’m talking about editions of a book where the publishers have hired some renowned intellectual to provide an introduction to the novel, setting the scene in terms of the time period, the author’s life or whatever else they feel is relevant. These introductions can be quite interesting but more often than not they also  contain details of the plot which would otherwise have been a surprise and can be central to building suspense and telling the story properly.

Now I understand that a lot of the classic stories are so well known that you might expect people to already know what happens in the end and this is often true. For example, I haven’t yet read Pride & Prejudice but I have a fair idea that a certain Ms Bennett and a certain Mr Darcy are probably going to come across each other at some point. But this doesn’t mean that I want the intricate plot details spelled out before I’ve even started. 

I’m sure many of you out there will agree when I say that I hate spoilers. One of the low points of my reading career was when a schoolfriend who’d got hold of one of the Harry Potter books before me said she would “just tell me the initials” of the person who died. An entire book ruined ladies and gentlemen (and a friendship on the rocks).

I’ve spent every Wednesday for the last few weeks with my fingers in my ears in case someone gives away the result of The Great British Bake Off.

Are you getting it? I hate spoilers!

So I really, really, really hate it when some well meaning publisher ruins a plot right at the front of the book. The first few times I picked up a book with an introduction I would read it  as a way to prolong the delicious anticipation before diving into the text but after The Green Mile I learnt my lesson.

The thing is that these introductions do contain interesting points and these days I often go back and read them once I’m done with the story so I’m not against the content per se I just think they should be at the back of the book so that we aren’t fooled into reading them too early.

This morning I started The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and in this case the introduction was preceded by a warning from the publisher to read the book before the introduction if you value “surprises, secrets and revelations that all narratives contain”. If I value them? I’m reading a mystery book, I would say that’s elementary my dear Watson. I appreciate the warning but wouldn’t it make more sense to move the introduction to the other end of the volume to prevent any unnecessary upset?

In a similar vein I’ve often had plot details revealed by the notes section. You flip to the back expecting the explanation of a quote or an unfamiliar word and instead are told that this sentence preshadows Mr So-and-So’s demise in a poetic fashion. Well thanks very much.

Spoilers are everywhere and it’s incredibly hard to avoid them so I could really do without having them forced on me in this manner. Bah! Humbug! (Said someone, in some book but far be it from me to tell you who.)