Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Mini-reviews: The Boy in the Dress & This Perfect World

The Boy in the Dress, David Walliams

I've never liked Little Britain, and when I saw one of its stars had written a book with a title like The Boy in the Dress, my expectations weren't high. I was pleasantly surprised when in a quiet moment at work, I picked up Walliams' debut novel and found myself immediately charmed. I need not give too lengthy a plot synopsis - the clue is in the title! Walliams' narration is reminiscent of Roald Dahl's, full of humour and authorial asides to the reader - even a sly reference to "Small England, or whatever that show's called," and the Dahl similarities are highlighted by the illustrations by Quentin Blake. There is enough childish humour to appeal to 9- to 12-year-old boys, but not so much it alienates older readers. There is a great cast of characters, my favourite being the wonderfully overzealous corner shop owner with his cries of "three for the price of two! Eight for the price of five! Thirteen for the price of eleven!" or his offer of "buy two packets of crisps get one free." (One crisp, that is.) Yet there is a sensitivity that you wouldn't get with Roald Dahl. On my first encounter with the cross-dressing protagonist's father, I mentally compared him with Mr Wormwood of Matilda, or perhaps Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon, but as the story progresses we get to see that he's not the miserable grump that adults often are in kids' books, but a loving father who's not good with the soppy stuff, and who is heartbroken about his wife's desertion. A humorous book with a heart, for children aged around 9-12.

David Walliams has written two other books for children: Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy.

This Perfect World, Suzanne Bugler

This Perfect World is the next on the list of books selected by Richard and Judy for their Book Club. The Richard and Judy Book Club has been quite a significant event for encouraging people to read and discuss books that maybe they wouldn't otherwise. Formerly featured on their afternoon show, the Book Club has really helped to publicise such books as The Time Traveller's Wife, My Sister's Keeper, and The Lovely Bones in the UK. I've had mixed reactions to the R&J selections, adoring some and being very indifferent to others. This should be expected, really, as the books are chosen to appeal to a wide audience.

This Perfect World wasn't one of the "adores" for me. The story revolves around Laura Hamley, former school bully and centre of the "in-crowd," whose life is shaken up when she receives a phone call from the mother of Helen "Heddy" Partridge - one of her former victims. Heddy is has suffered a mental breakdown and is in hospital, and Mrs Partridge wants Laura to help her to get out. Laura is not so keen.

I find it difficult to enjoy a book if I can't like the central character, and I'll be blunt: I felt nothing but disgust and loathing for Laura. Reading This Perfect World so soon after Cookie, my own memories of being bullied were still close to the surface and Laura, and her friends were horrible. All through the book, she is reluctantly persuaded into helping Mrs Partridge, driving her to the hospital or looking after Heddy's child, but constantly Laura's thoughts are of getting rid of the "problem" of Heddy, keeping her in the past so that she doesn't have to think about her any more. We see how childhood bullies have grown into snobs and bigots, and how the playground politics seem set to influence their own children's relationships with each other. This Perfect World was a quick read which nonetheless provoked a lot of thought, but ultimately I found it bleak and depressing and I wasn't sorry to finish.

3 comments:

  1. I have found that I am usually disappointed when a celeb turns to writing....but you have my interest on David Walliams book.

    I will def check this out.
    Great review

    thanks

    carol

    ReplyDelete
  2. I usually avoid celeb-penned books like the plague, especially as I know most of them are ghostwritten which seems a bit dishonest to me. But I did enjoy this one.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Two very different books :)
    I can totally understand your reaction to Laura's character, but I have to say that the premise of the book intrigues me.

    ReplyDelete

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