Something rotten

Jan Mark: Heathrow Nights
Heinemann New Windmills 2002 (2000)

Three teenage tearaways from Hertfordshire, Adam, Curtis and the narrator Russell, disgrace themselves on an outing to see a performance of Hamlet and as a result are banned from a school trip to Cumbria. Rather than confess to their parents — and having intercepted letters from school — they arrange to spend the week in London. Alas, things don’t go according to plan and they find themselves in limbo wandering around the terminals of Heathrow Airport.

While they do so Russell is able to meditate more fully on his situation: his father having suddenly died, his mother hasn’t taken long to get remarried, to the person who was with his father when the latter unexpectedly passed away on a plane.

His resentment at a changing situation over which he has no control causes him to see parallels between himself and Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the prince learns from his father’s ghost that he was murdered by his uncle Claudius and that his mother Gertrude rushed to wed his uncle.

But is the comparison exact? Are there also parallels between other characters and the people he knows? And what will happen when his week in limbo comes to an end?

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Square pegs

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Louis Sachar: Holes
Bloomsbury 2000 (1998)

This immensely readable YA novel is a delight: it presents like real-life contemporary fiction but is littered with almost impossible coincidences; it feels like a piece of fantasy at times but is unrelenting in its portrayal of societal realities; it’s peopled by individuals who one moment may be stereotypical and the next become complex and unpredictable.

Stanley Yelnats has been accused and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. His sentence is to go to Camp Green Lake, a correctional institute where boys are expected to dig regulation-sized holes to build good character.

And yet all is not as it seems: we are already alerted to the fact that Stanley didn’t commit a crime, that — suspiciously — his name is palindromic, that the institute is neither green nor by a lake, and that everyone there is a metaphorical square peg who will never fit the round hole they’re expected to dig.

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On being a literary omnivore

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Maybe you’re a bit like me — given a cereal packet, a receipt, a magazine, a leaflet, a poster, a road sign, I’ll start reading and instantly lose myself. During everyday conversations my eyes soon start drifting around, looking for literary matter. Faced with bookshelves my head twists to one side to scan the titles (which, thankfully, these days mostly read vertically one way — unless they’re fat textbooks or foreign language titles). Maybe you’re even trying to scan the book titles in the illustration heading this post.

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