Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Memoirs of a Midet - Walter de la Mare

If it hadn’t been for the lovely people at Telegram Books emailing me to see if I would like to read any of their books then I would quite possibly have never read Memoirs of a Midget and yet it is a classic, one maybe many of us haven’t heard about but a classic never the less. I actually thought from the cover it was a very new book, it turns out it’s just a new edition. I hadn’t heard of Walter de la Mare but doing some research I found out he lived from 1873 until 1956 and he was a well loved and respected poet. This was his fourth book was published in 1921 and won the James Tate Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Already before I had read a single page I was intrigued by what appeared to be a forgotten classic.

Though I admit I have never read a Dickens (though I have seen many on the television – which I know isn’t the same) or read any Thomas Hardy I have had quite a few on audio book. In fact from around the age of around ten until around fourteen I loved nothing more than listening to Tess of the d’Urbervilles and often. The reason I mention these two authors is the fact they have written great books with a huge landscape of characters and that is just what Walter de la Mare does in this novel.

‘Memoirs of a Midget’ is the life and times of Miss M, told by none other than Miss M herself. Born from two ‘non-midget’ parents we follow her through her childhood and then through her early adult life and onwards after her parents both pass away. This indeed is mainly a book about how society deals with people who are different and looks at how Miss M is vilified by some, loved by others and isolated by many, written in the time it was it somehow doesn’t seem to have aged at all and in some ways could have been written quite recently. For me the tell tale signs it was a much older book were of course the fact that technology wasn’t up to date but there were other signs that it was a classic like the names of characters such Pollie Muggeridge or Lady Pollacke. There are many other wonderful characters with no actual name just a Mr or Mrs and then a wonderful surname like Bowater, Hubbins or Crimble.

All these characters were wonderful and added to the density and panorama of the book which has a huge scope and travels around Britain as it goes leading up to Miss M’s arrival in London. My favourite character partly because she was so bolshie, lovely and then suddenly serpentine was Fanny Bowater (every great classic has a character somewhere in it called Fanny, honestly, you have a think) who in some parts actually stole the show (literally) completely from Miss M.

Miss M is a fascinating character though, for a while I got slightly annoyed I couldn’t work out exactly how tall she was or wasn’t as it made her hard to visualise but eventually I worked it out and from then on was completely swept along by her story. I found the tales of the people she met and how they reacted to her and the fact she was so different very moving, occasionally funny and always touching. If you like big great long adventures with one protagonist as they struggle through the highs and lows of their life then this book is definitely one for you to read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This book has left me really wanting to dig out more classics; I need to get my hands on a copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles sharpish, until then though what next? I think its time for me to get some short books read. I have loved being totally swept away for pages and pages by such wonders as this and of course The Blind Assassin but I do think I need a few shorter reads just for a few days, I have no choice as the next Savidge Big Weekender fast approaches with The Name of The Rose as the next choice, do let me know if you are joining in on that one.

So short books and novella's… what would you recommend? You all know I always love to get your opinions. Maybe I am in the mood for a guilty pleasure, why I call them guilty pleasures I have no idea, I feel no guilt when reading them, none whatsoever. And of course do let me know what you think of the sound of Memoirs of a Midget, you never know Telegram could contact you… they found me through my comments on another book blog!


Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm a bad person to recommend short stories and novellas...a genre I have not touched. Not that I don't want to. I have no answer for why. I will make it my goal for next year. I am not nearly as educated in the classics as I'd like to be. I've joined a classics challenge, and shortly will be delving into some Austen. I can't wait!

Jo said...

It sounds like an interesting one. The character names sound very like dickens, who I'm appreciating less and less the older I get! But I love Hardy, and Tess is probably my favourite book ever! Each time I read it I want her to make different decisions, even though I know she doesn't.

I'll do The Name of The Rose this weekend if I can find my copy. It's somewhere in my boxes full of uni books, which involves a trip into the loft!

Lizzy Siddal said...

I love novellas - particularly German ones - they're the best!

In all seriousness - try Theodor Storm's "The Dykemaster" translated by Dennis Jackson, published by Angel Classics

or any of the Stefan Zweig short story collections published by Pushkin Press.

You'll find reviews of both on my blog.

From Iceland, there's Sjon's "Blue Fox" which I intend reviewing sometime in the next week.

And I'm told Gilbert Adair's "The Death of An Author" is absolutely brilliant!

By the way I'm going to join you for "The Sea of Poppies". Though I'll be lagging behind. There's no way I can read something that long in just a couple of days. How do you do it?

Savidge Reads said...

Sandy - A nice bowt of Austen mania sounds delightful.

Jo - so glad that you are joiningin with The Name of the Rose, I must must actually read Tess as from audio alone I thought it was wonderful.

Lizzy - Firstly thank you very much for the parcel that arrived this week! Secondly the way I rewad so much at the weekend? Because the Non Reader works so muhc, plus I am a fairly quick reader myself not to be confused with a skim reader!!

Unknown said...

The first time I read Tess I did it in two days. I could not put the thing down. This one sounds very good. I've read other positive things about it lately, it seems.

For novellas, you might want to try Faulkner's. I read The Old Man last year and loved it. It's not widely experimental like his longer fiction is. Straightforward, adventurous, and fun.

Teresa said...

I've wanted to read this book ever since I saw Michael Dirda's recommendation of it in Classics for Pleasure. It sounds like a real treat!

Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite authors. I've read most of his major works and loved them all. Tess is my hands-down favorite, but you can't go wrong with any of them. (Well, maybe not Jude to start--it's brilliant but long.)

Savidge Reads said...

C.B - On that review of Tess by you I am going to have to pick up a copy pronto!

Teresa - thanks very much for the advice I have heard that Jude is meant to be very very hard going.

I cant recommend Memoirs of a Midget enough to you both.