I’ve just re-started my online Archaeology course, with a module on Classical Archaeology, so I don’t know how I’m managing to find time to read anything other than my study material and text books… but… I have managed to read one book and am most of the way through another. The two are about as completely different as two works of fiction can be.
Son of the Black Stallion by Walter Farley
When I was about six years old (give or take a couple of years), I discovered the Black Stallion series. The first book completely captivated me and captured my imagination, as I spent my days with the small boy and the big horse on the deserted island. It is difficult to recall the details 30-odd years later, but I think I read each of the seven books several times over. Of these books was born my fascination with horses, and of course, years later, my almost equal enjoyment of Dick Francis and his horse (racing) (and usually murder-mystery) books.
In those days, for some reason, I believed there were only seven of the Black Stallion books. I had discovered them in a dusty (figuratively speaking; nothing in that house was ever literally dusty, with the bevy of servants fastidiously dusting and cleaning every nook and cranny) book shelf in my maternal grandmother’s house, hidden away between Little Women and Pride and Prejudice, and other such gems (which I also devoured a few years later). They were already old books by then, hard bound, with crumbling and yellowing pages inside. I find now that the copyright for this book is 1947, and those books were quite possibly from the one of the early prints, they seemed that old back then.
Recently, in Landmark, looking for a book appropriate for Amit’s seven or eight year old niece, I happened to spot this book, which I recall being titled back then as Satan: Son of the Black Stallion. It was, I thought, third in the series. It was not my favourite – the first two probably were – but, well, it was one of The Black Stallion series, so I snapped it up. (The niece got Biggles. That’s a whole different story. I wanted to get her Williams, but that’s another story too.)
I read (re-read, technically, but my memory of it was so faint it hardly counted) the book at one sitting. It was still as enchanting and absorbing as ever. It didn’t even, really, make me feel like I was reading a “children’s” book. It was about a 17-18 year old boy, so it wasn’t in that sense like a book about a five-year-old. In any case, it was about the horse, and the problems of taming one that seemed quite wild, and of overcoming various obstacles and of – finally – pursuing a difficult dream and winning. In that sense, it was a time-honoured tale and nothing out of the ordinary – many, many movies have been made which tell essentially the same tale. In the book, though, as in most cases, it was about the way the tale is told, the unfolding of events, the creation of character, the build-up of suspense. It was a happy story, and a satisfying and well-told one. Now I want to go out and look for the other books of the series – apparently there were eventually twenty or more of them, so I have lots of fun to look forward to!
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
This is an unusual sort of book, mainly because the writing style is unusual. It is slow, considered, dry, descriptive, even boring, almost. It is not written in comfortable English. Perhaps the language is colloquial as it would be in the vernacular, but when you read it in English, it is unusual and awkward. The repeated use of the term “slave” is unpleasant to me, even though it seems to have nuances different from what it would normally imply to me.
The story is set in China, but, for a large part of the narrative and in many respects, it could just as well be India – apart from the names and a few trivial details here and there. It is a straightforward rags to riches story, with no twist in the tale except that the riches, which begin to be acquired rather early on, continue to be acquired almost upto the last page of the book. It covers a period of maybe fifty years or so, from the protagonist’s wedding day, through till almost his dying breath. All along, I keep expecting the twist, or at the very least, the moral, but it never comes. There is a whisper of something on the last page, the last paragraph almost, but it’s just a ghost.
I seem to be saying mostly negative things about it – but it’s not a bad book. It held my interest throughout, although I think it was mainly “waiting for the axe to fall” which never fell. It was interesting in many ways… but partly the style of writing, and partly the narrative style, where almost the entire story is “narrated” to you (not by any character in the book, but by the author from the protagonist’s perspective), rather than developing or unfolding as you watch… these, in my opinion, kept it very far from being a great book. Or even, perhaps, a good book. Having said that, I think that there are many things about the book, or about the context the book is set in, which I will not forget in a hurry, so that’s something of an achievement.
Overall, I’d say it was worth reading, but not something I’d recommend as very high up on the list of stuff to read.