Tag Archives: Was

Was, Geoff Ryman

WasI don’t know if I have enough words to describe just how much I enjoyed this book (ironic, no?).

It was wonderful; a rollercoaster of emotion, a triumph of visualisation, a fantastical tale with hints of reality peeking round the edges.

The story is very loosely based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so to fully appreciate it you probably need to have some knowledge of that story. I’ve seen the film a few times so there’s very likely to have been some references I’ve missed out on but I still loved it (have you got that message yet?).

There are three strands to the book:

1. Dorothy, a young girl orphaned and sent to live with her aunt and uncle in the 1880s. Her story tracks her through her life growing up in rural Kansas and tells how she came to be the inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s novel. Note: this is a fictional Dorothy but an entirely plausible tale.

2. Jonathan, an actor dying from AIDS and intent on discovering Dorothy’s story and seeing the world she lived in.

3. A minor strand tells the story of the young Judy Garland (Frances Gumm as she was then) and the filming of the Wizard of Oz.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (film)

Originally I didn’t expect to be interested in the Judy Garland story, I’ve never been one for biographies and I have very little interest in her anyway. However although it was my least favourite strand I did still enjoy it and the small part played by young Frances definitely held my attention.

But the real battle for my affection was between Dorothy and Jonathan. Despite opening the book, Jonathan doesn’t get much of a look in for the first half but when he is brought back he certainly makes up for it! In the latter part he and Bill (his therapist and a minor character but someone I fell for quite hard) go hunting through Kansas looking for traces of Dorothy which is exactly the sort of research I find fascinating. I love looking at old records and getting a sniff of the people behind the names. Real people who lived, loved and laughed just like we do. This is a big part of why I loved this book.

So I loved Jonathan but Dorothy, oh Dorothy! How I felt for you! I rooted for you from the first moment you were flung off that train in Manhattan (Kansas) and left to fend for yourself. I was with you on every step of your journey through life, at school, at Mr Sue’s and on your late night excursions, I was so willing someone to help you change your life. And yours was the story that drove me to skip ahead through several chapters to read the next part of your tale rather than be distracted by Jonathan or Judy. Oh Dorothy.

I truly didn’t expect to love this book. I picked it up because it was written by Geoff Ryman whose book 253 was a masterpiece and perfect for nosy commuters like me (see this post to find out why). So I expected it to be well written and maybe a bit different but I wasn’t thrilled by the ‘story behind the Wizard of Oz’ premise because I’m not a huge fan of the film. But I ended up loving not only the stories in Was but also the references to the other book/film, all the references to rainbows and witches and the need for brains, heart and courage.

I even loved Ryman’s afternote detailing his sources and what was and wasn’t based on fact because it gave the book the notes of realism I craved, it also stopped me getting carried away and believing everything he’d written.

When I turned the last page I sat and hugged the book and it was only very reluctantly that I was able to put it away and start something new this morning.

Emotion on the tube

I’m not posting much at the moment which is mostly due to real life getting a bit too real and demanding all of my time and attention. But I want to promise you that I am still reading!

Currently I’m reading a book called Was by Geoff Ryman (there was a very funny conversation where I tried to explain to my housemate that Was IS the name of the book and I wasn’t just really forgetful “My book is, Was….”!). Anyway the book is very good and is a sort of spin on The Wizard of Oz and while I was reading it today on my way to and from work (yes on a Saturday, what did I say about real life getting demanding?) it got super emotional. As in something majorly bad happened to one of the main characters and I was spellbound (pun intended).

Was  is one of those books that has several different stories woven together and tonight is the only time that I can remember indulging myself and skipping ahead to read the rest of one character’s story instead of waiting to get round to it. Part of me feels guilty but I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened.

Anyway the point of this somewhat-rambley post is that this Majorly Bad Thing got me so involved that I was getting quite emotional over it. I’ve mentioned before that I find it hard to mask my emotions when I’m reading something particularly good and anyone who’s ever watched a film with me will be able to tell you that I’m kind of obvious when I find something especially upsetting. So there I was reading my book with my distress written all over my face when I noticed the guy sat next to me.

I’m not often distracted when something has me so pinned to the page but this guy was also reading a book and out the corner of my eye I saw him make a fist and softly bang it against his knee.

If you’ve ever been to London then you’ll know that the proper way to act when on the tube is to pretend that no one else exists so I didn’t feel I could look at what he was reading but it was more reassuring than I can say to see someone else display visible emotion at the written word! Since I’d been distracted I then looked up at the man across from me and saw that he too was glued to the page with a look of distress on his face (although he was reading the non-fiction book, Guns. Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond so whether his distress was emotional or theoretical I couldn’t say).

As I say it’s the first time I’ve seen emotion from other readers on the Underground and it made me feel much better about my obviousness. Would it be too much of a terrible pun if I described myself as an open book in this scenario?! But it made me wonder, maybe my thoughts aren’t as obvious as I thought? And maybe I’m not the only one who’s so transparent after all? Which are comforting thoughts, I always wondered if maybe other Underground-readers don’t get as much out of their books as I do which would be a sad thing indeed.