Midweek book club – Richard Matheson and Polly Dunbar

Apologies for the absence of book club last week – time just ran away with me. On the plus side this gave me time to finish the book I was reading so that I could review it for you. But before I start, I have been pondering this all week.

I entered two writing competitions recently. One was open to all writers, the other was on a woman-only website. I didn’t win either competition (c’est la vie) but I was struck by something. My writing group all entered something for the mixed competition – we’re a mixed group and our stories ranged from horror to sex-based comedy to myth to sci-fi. In the women’s competition, mine was the only entry that didn’t deal with male/female relationships.

Why is that? And should I be surprised? In the wider world women write about all subjects so was this just a one-off? I really hope so. I found it dispiriting.

Anyway, to return to reviewing books. I hope the range of adult books is keeping you interested. Science fiction today. I don’t read a lot of sci fi, mainly as I irrationally think many writers get distracted by the futuristic details and I can’t be bothered to read descriptions of how hoverboards work. This is completely ridiculous. (Though if you try and read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson you’ll see what I mean. A good story BURIED under superfluous nonsense.)

Richard Matheson – The Incredible Shrinking Man
So the plot’s in the title, yes? Scott, the hero, gets sprayed with a fine mist one day while on a boat, and finds that he starts shrinking. The story is told in flashbacks, interspersed with incidents from the present where Scott has got so small he’s trapped in his cellar and is battling a black widow spider who wants to eat him. For someone who hates spiders, these sequences scared the crap out of me, they were so visual, and I turned every page in dread of him turning round to find a huge eight legged beast bearing down on him. Kind of like that scene in Alien where Tom Skerrit finds the alien in the ventilation shaft. Bye Tom! Anyway, on the whole, this was an exciting read. But I had a few criticisms. First, Scott’s wife is pretty unsympathetic as a character. I didn’t see why she had to be quite so cold, she must have been scared too. And the passages where Scott is yearning for sex were pretty tedious. I doubt that Matheson, writing at the time he was, wanted to put a masturbation scene in the book but you really did wonder why he didn’t just get on with it once in a while. Or perhaps he did. But the constant whining about it annoyed me. I liked that the technicalities of why he was shrinking were not dwelt on but rather the consequences, some of which hadn’t occurred to me until I read them and thought, oh yes, that would be a problem. So all in all, pretty good.

Polly Dunbar – Penguin
I was in Waterstone’s the other day when I noticed their children’s books display in the front of store. There was a shelf of That’s Not My… Books. D you know those? That’s not my Monkey/ Puppy/ Tractor etc. each different animal or thing has different touchy feely features that distinguish it from the rest. They’re really good for small children. But new titles in the series include That’s Not My Prince and That’s Not my Princess. Leaving aside how much you’re supposed to grope royalty (or anyone) to find the touchy feely bits, what and why would you add these? Except that we’re supposed to be surfing a wave of pro-royal fever. I found it all quite depressing. So I thought I’d pick something funny and smart this week as a counter to this.

‘Penguin’ is simply illustrated and is the story of Ben who is given a penguin as a gift. He starts off trying to entertain it and make it talk and, when it doesn’t, gets very frustrated with it, fires it into space and then tries to feed it to a lion. The lion doesn’t want to eat the penguin but, when he gets upset, eats Ben instead. I won’t tell you what happens at the end but it’s quite sweet. I liked this because it shows Ben being quite a normal boy, affectionate, funny, naughty, cross and imaginative but not punished for going through a range of emotions. It’s got a good sense of humour too. And E liked pointing at each animal and at Ben as we read it.

Until next week!

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