Monthly Archives: September 2018

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

If we are ill and in hospital, fearing for our life, awaiting terrifying surgery, we have to trust the doctors treating us – at least, life is very difficult if we don’t. It is not surprising that we invest doctors with superhuman qualities as a way of overcoming our fears. (xi)

In common use brain surgeon is a synonym for a person able to deal with difficult problems with extreme accuracy based on profound knowledge. And brain surgeons do have great skill and are often at the peak of their medical career. We should also remember that …

Doctors are human like the rest of us. (xi)

Do No Harm  is a celebration of the human approaches in this medical specialism.

Do No Harm: stories of life, death and brain surgery

Richard Marsh recently retired from his position in a leading London Hospital where he had been a brain surgeon. This is his account of his career, his memoirs told through a series of case studies, each focusing on a different medical condition. He is keen to point out the fallibility of people in his position and that mistakes do get made, with quite awful consequences. He also reveals the importance of having good skills at explaining and reassuring people, patients and their families. And for teaching those who will ultimately replace him.

There is a central mystery in the brain. It is just jelly-like stuff. This grey-white stuff enables us to be conscious, to make decisions, to learn, understand, even to perform brain surgery. Yet it is still just jelly-like stuff fed by networks of blood vessels. If you are of a feeble disposition look away from this quotation.

I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing. With a pair of diathermy forceps I coagulate the beautiful and intricate red blood vessels that lie on the brain’s shining surface. I cut into it with a small scalpel and make a hole through which I can push a fine sucker – as the brain has the consistency of jelly a sucker is the brain surgeon’s principal tool. I look down my operating microscope, feeling my way downwards through the soft white substance of the brain, searching for the tumour. The idea that my sucker is moving through thought itself, through emotion and reason that memories, dreams and reflection should consist of jelly, is simply too strange to understand. All I can see in front of me is matter. (1)

This is the opening of the first chapter, called Pineocytoma (an uncommon, slow-growing tumour of the pineal gland). Not all brain surgery is in pursuit of tumours; some is to attend to aneurysms, and some is actually spinal surgery.

And while each chapter looks at a different condition, the reader is never in doubt that these are people in whose brains Henry Marsh is moving his sucker. Some are in a very serious condition, others need preventative work, but all are people, who usually have families, and who are usually very frightened.

Meanwhile he also makes it clear that he is a member of a team, the theatre team and also the team of nursing staff. That these carefully built up working arrangements are endangered by management systems in hospitals and the recent financial and recruitment difficulties inflicted upon the NHS provokes incandescence in a doctor concerned above all with patients.

He tells a good tale, invaluable for those who must learn from him, and which makes for a very readable account of his work inside people’s heads. Here are some of the words reviewers have used to describe this book: elegant, frank, compassionate, profoundly moving, extraordinarily intimate, full of humanity …

It may well be that doctors do not have superhuman qualities, but Henry Marsh demonstrates some profoundly humanitarian one.

I picked up my copy in the Red Cross Shop in Chichester. It is one of the best reads for £1.75 I have had for some time.

Do No Harm: stories of life, death and brain surgery by Henry Marsh, published in2015 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 290pp

Winner of the PEN Ackerley Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature. Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

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Plainsong by Kent Haruf

There is a finite number of novels by Kent Haruf and I have now read three, all gems. Plainsong is the first of a trilogy featuring the inhabitants of Holt, Colorado. The small town dramas are delicately revealed and discreetly dealt with. For all their smallness and quietness, the events of these novels have much to teach us about what matters in our world and about human values.

Plainsong  by Kent Haruf

The story of Plainsong weaves together the small events in the lives of several citizens of rural Holt. Tom Guthrie, American history teacher at the high school, has been abandoned by his wife and falls out with a particularly obnoxious pupil; Guthrie’s two boys, Ike and Bobby, are learning to live without their mother who had a breakdown; Victoria’s mother has little affection for her daughter and when Victoria becomes pregnant throws her out; two old brothers run a farm together for decades following the death of their parents. The wisest head belongs to another teacher Maggie Jones, who finds solutions to the difficulties of these characters and nudges them towards their better selves.

The title is interesting. This is printed before the title page.

Plainsong – the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air.

To begin with, the voices of these characters are separate and isolated, but as the story progresses they come to work in unison, but remain ‘simple and unadorned’. They are united by the dominant values of the small town: generosity, care and protection towards others, forgiveness. The two old guys take in Victoria and protect her against her ghastly former boyfriend; Guthrie stands up for what is right as he confronts the recalcitrant pupil and parents, even as his own sons are bullied; neighbours help each other out.

Reading Plainsong

Kent Haruf died in 2014. His novels are highly recommended by readers I trust, and especially by Ursula Le Guin, who said in a review of Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night:

Not for all the colloquial ease and transparency and apparent simplicity of the story, is there a glib word or predictable one. (From Words are my Matter, 213)

She reminds us that writing about the everyday is a tough job. Kent Haruf communicates the importance of the everyday by using a spare style: there are few adverbs, and no quotation marks. The result is an even tone, remaining calm even as tensions build and characters suffer. We learn people’s reactions from what they do and what they say.

Here’s a scene from a store where the old guys have taken Victoria to choose a crib for the baby she is expecting.

The girl watched it all from a kind of abject distance. She had grown increasingly quiet. At last she said, Can’t you wait? It’s too much. You shouldn’t be doing all of this.

What’s the matter? Harold said. We’re having some fun here. We thought you was too.

But it’s too expensive. Why are you doing this?

It’s all right, he said. He started to put his arm around her, but stopped himself. He looked down into her face. It’s all right, he said again. It is. You’ll just have to believe that.

The girl’s eyes filled with tears, though she made no sound. Harold took out a handkerchief from the rear pocket of his pants and gave it to her. She wiped at her eyes and blew her nose and handed it back to him. You want to keep it? Harold said. She shook her head. (174)

There is so much sensitivity, tenderness and trust revealed in this short example. It is simply done, with just the right amount of attention to each moment.

If you haven’t read Kent Haruf before you should treat yourself.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf, published in 1999. I read the edition by Picador.288pp. In this sequence there are also Eventide (2004) and Benediction (2013)

Also by Kent Haruf on Bookword: Our Souls at Night.

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Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Utopias are irresistible. This feminist utopia has much to recommend it, at least as a book. The supreme function of fiction is to offer a different way of seeing the world. Charlotte Perkins Gilman gives her readers a world without men in her utopia, called Herland.

In Women & PowerMary Beard explores the historic silencing of women and the current constructions of power that exclude women. That book reminded me about Herland. I decided to treat myself to a reread.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It is the early twentieth century and young men are proving themselves through exploration in Africa, Antarctica and up the Amazon. Three young men, in search of adventure, are determined to find the fabled land rumoured to be peopled by women only. They approach with many assumptions in place. They assume they will be welcomed, that there are men managing things, and if not seen the men must be pulling the strings from some glorious hiding place.

Terry is a rich, virile and confident young man, not used to being denied by anyone, above all women. He expects to conquer the women. Jeff is a southerner, and his respect and reverence for women makes understanding Herland easier for him than for his macho companion. But his worship is of weak and feeble women, and the inhabitants of Herland are not that. They are assertive, powerful and in no need of protection. Van, the narrator, likes to take a scientific approach to the world, more questioning, less prone to assumptions. Even he is amazed by what they find in that hidden land.

The young men are certain that the place will provide them with opportunities for conquest and power.

“They would fight amongst themselves,” Terry insisted. “Women always do. We mustn’t look to find any sort of order and organization.”

“You’re dead wrong,” Jeff told him. “It will be like a nunnery under an abbess – a peaceful, harmonious sisterhood.”

I snorted derision at this idea.

“Nuns, indeed! Your peaceful sisterhoods were all celibate, Jeff, and under vows of obedience. These are just women, and mothers, and where there’s motherhood you don’t find sisterhood – not much.”

“No, sir – they’ll scrap,” agreed Terry. “Also we mustn’t look for invention and progress, it’ll be awfully primitive.” (7)

On encountering some women, they discover that their accustomed ways of approaching women do not result in the outcomes they expect. And when they become more aggressive many women arrive and subdue and detain them. They attempt one escape but after a while cooperate to learn about Herland.

Reflecting on their early days in Herland the visitors find that they were surprised that many of the inhabitants were older women and that these older women took charge of them.

In our discussion and speculations we had always unconsciously assumed that the women, whatever else they might be, would be young. Most men do think that way, I fancy.

“Woman” in the abstract is young, and, we assume, charming. As they get older they pass off the stage, somehow, into private ownership mostly, or out of it altogether. But these good ladies were very much on the stage, and yet any one of them might have been a grandmother. (17)

Some of the pleasure of the novel is in anticipating the ways in which the men’s preconceptions will be challenged as they gradually learn about how the women organise their society. In comparing the strange country with their own the three men find that they want to hide much about their homeland: poverty, disease, inequality, war and so forth.

They are eventually expelled, or leave or remain in the paradise. Terry believes in the superiority of men and that the relationships between men and women as he has experienced them are the natural order of things. It is his behaviour, his sexual violence, which leads to his expulsion. Jeff finds happiness in Herland and Van returns with Terry.

Is Herland a paradise?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman constructed a land based on assumptions that challenged those common in early twentieth century America. Its principles were rational, and the women worked together for the benefit of all. Their sexless motherhood was seen as almost sacred by them, and the outcomes of their cooperation included equality, generosity, shared knowledge, wealth and good feeling. Without men the women had rejected competition and values based on strength, acquisition and exclusivity.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was reacting to a society that she found deeply repugnant in its treatment of women. She wrote her short story The Yellow Wallpaper in 1892. In it she describes how a woman is treated (medically, psychologically) in order to bring her to the proper attitudes of a wife. It was based on her own experience of marriage.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman in c 1900

And she is no less a product of her time. In particular, this imagined female-dominated society is governed by rational thinking. And we know, we cannot escape the knowledge that humans, male and female, do not always act rationally.

The chapters in which the men discover the ways in which women organise various aspects of their community, become a little tedious. The expectation by the reader that the narrative will reveal the amusing shortcomings of the men’s attitudes cannot be sustained as they and the reader become more familiar with Herland.

Herald is a mischievous and lively exposition of women’s capabilities, and reminds us of how the men of Charlotte Gilman Perkin’s time viewed women and of how little has changed since then.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first serialised in 1909 and published as a book in 1979. I read the Dover Thrift Edition. 124pp

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The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge is my September choice in Bookword’s monthly Women in Translation series. As the title suggests a family features strongly in this Chinese novel, set in a small town as the family gathers to celebrate Gran’s eightieth birthday. Secrets are revealed, truths exposed and even the grandmother has some surprises to reveal.

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman.

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan

Pingle Town is a small town in West China. It has four streets: North, South, East and West. It has grown recently, becoming more prosperous, partly because of the success of the Chilli Bean Paste Factory, but also sharing the increasing prosperity of China as a whole. The Factory is owned by the Duan-Xue clan, directed by Shengqiang but everything is controlled by his mother the matriarch.

The novel is narrated by Shengqiang’s daughter, who is in a psychiatric hospital, but that is all we know about her. For the most part we follow Shengqiang, called Dad by the narrator. He is one of the most selfish, oaf-fish and unaware main characters in fiction. He gradually understands what is going on around him, having assumed he knew it all and that he was in charge.

He has a mistress, Jasmine, and is married. The widowed Gran has three children and he is her youngest. His older brother, Uncle, is not married, and is a professor of Maths in a university some way away. His single state is a cause of consternation. Aunty Coral is trying to divorce her husband. Jasmine falls pregnant. Shengqiang’s  wife threatens divorce. Matters come to a head as the siblings arrange a party for the 80thbirthday of their mother.

Shengqiang is motivated by his appetite for sex, food and drink. He also likes controlling people and uses money to do this. His mother manipulates him to her own ends, believing that family reputation is important for the success of the Chilli Bean Paste Factory.

This novel is lively and perceptive about corrosive aspects of family relationships. It sagged a little as Dad went on yet another bender with his bros, or found another young woman irresistible. I found it frustrating that the narrator’s part in all of this was never explained, and did not appear to have a role beyond reporting.

But as an exploration of a small town with its long histories, its rivalries and friendships, it was enjoyable. The description of food, a focus of much of Dad’s activities, was splendid. Almost every chapter has some delightful description of a meal. Here is an example.

There was a steaming, simmering hotpot of ribs, white fish head, chilli peppers and green Sichuan pepper, to which they gradually added pieces of swamp eel, brains and meatballs, potato and shitake mushrooms, and slices of bamboo shoots. (199)

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, originally published in 2013. Translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman and published by Balestier Press in 2018. 276pp.

I was sent this book from the Asymptote book club.

Winner of the English PEN Translation Award.

Women in translation series

Every month I review a book by a woman in translation on this blog. Here are some recent posts with links.

Go, Went, Goneby Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

Love by Hanne Østavik, translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken

Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft.

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The March of Folly by Barbara W Tuchman

What on earth can have brought this book to mind? In these worrying times, foolish people seem to have power, and foolish policies appear to be unstoppable, so my mind turns to The March of Folly. Sadly this book does not provide answers to how to prevent folly in policy. But it reminds us that power does not always reside with wise people, and we must be on our guard and maintain our democratic processes to counter folly. And the subtitle, from Troy to Vietnam, reminds us that the historical roots of folly are deep.

The Decades Project on Bookword has reached the 1980s. The project features non-fiction by women from each decade from the start of the 20thCentury. The March of Folly was published in 1984 and was written by an American.

The March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman

The argument of this history book is straightforward. Folly is frequently committed by policy makers. To qualify as folly she employs three criteria:

  1. the policy must be seen as counter-productive at the time,
  2. there must exist a feasible alternative, and
  3. the policy is promoted by a group of people, not an individual.

Barbara W Tuchman explores 4 examples of folly that meet these criteria, although she refers to many others.

Her first example is the decision by the rulers of Troy to move the wooden horse into the city. The siege of Troy was a story first told by Homer and then by other historians.

Troy falls at last after ten years of futile, indecisive, noble, mean, tricky, bitter, jealous and only occasionally heroic battle. As the culminating instrumentality for the fall, the story brings in the Wooden Horse. (43)

There were warnings and caution was advised. ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,’ warned Laocoon. They were advised to burn the horse, or throw it in the sea or at least cut it open. But instead it was pulled into Troy with some difficulty and when the Greek soldiers were released it was the means to the complete defeat of the Trojans.

She moves on to consider the actions of the renaissance popes in the face of rising dissention, which allowed the Reformation to split the Christian church. Next she explores England’s policy under George III towards the American colonies, which led to the War of Independence and to the loss of the colonies by the British. Finally, in the longest section, she considers American policy in Vietnam. The book was published in 1984. It was less than ten years since the US had pulled out of their bloody involvement in Vietnam.

To account for such policies of folly Barbara W Tuchman suggests that there must exist a certain amount of wooden-headedness or mental standstill, blindness to alternatives, deafness to criticism. Sometimes the group act with folly out of self-aggrandizement, or a lust for power, or are corrupted by having power. They may even have an excess of power, she suggests. Persistence in a false action can be the result of a difficulty in admitting to errors. And there may well be a lack of moral courage.

Having presented her four case studies she finishes on a downbeat.

Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society. If John Adams is right, and government is ‘little better practised now than three or four thousand years ago,’ we cannot reasonably expect much improvement. We can only muddle on as we have done in those same three or four thousand years, through patches of brilliance and decline, great endeavour and shadow. (486)

Barbara W Tuchman

Barbara W Tuchman was born in the USA in 1912 and before her death in 1989 she wrote many books of history for the general reader. She was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

It is no surprise that she was criticised by academic historians for not being academic enough. Her books were very popular however.

And although it can be satisfying to see events in history that one regrets as the result of folly, she has been criticised for not explaining the rise of folly.  Her examples are recounted in increasing detail, but the circumstances that allowed the policies to persist are really only explained by – well – folly.

In 1984 she commented:

It seems superfluous to say that the present study stems from the ubiquity of this problem [the folly of policy makers] in our time. (40)

As Britain continues on its path to Brexit folly, we too must fall back on explanations of power, self-aggrandisement and inability to admit errors. We are, I am convinced, engaged in a 21stcentury march of folly ourselves.

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W Tuchman published in 1984. I read Abacus edition published in 1985. 559pp

The Decades project on Bookword

In 2018 I am featuring non-fiction by women in each decade in the project having focused on novels in 2017. I select one book each month from successive decades (January 1900-1909; February 1910-1919 etc). Suggestions are always welcome.

Here are links to the previous three books in the 2018 Decades Project:

Elizabeth David’s books in the Kitchen(1950s)

Silent Springby Rachel Carson(1962)

84 Charing Cross Roadby Helene Hanff(1971)

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A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A Far Cry from Kensington is one of Muriel Spark’s later novels, published in 1988. It is set, however, in the 1950s in London. One of the chief pleasures of this short novel is the deft way in which she introduces and deploys so many characters. There are the residents of the boarding house, eight of them including the narrator, Mrs Hawkins. And there are no less than three different workplaces that employ her and their staff and many would-be authors who visit. There are cousins, friends, neighbours, handymen and their wives, printers, priests and visitors and there is Hector Bartlett around whom the action dances. Yet she never looses track, and the reader is never confused and always entertained.

A Far Cry from Kensington

At the start of the novel we are introduced to the inhabitants of the Kensington rooming house, in particular to Milly, the landlady with a big heart, and to Wanda the Polish seamstress. Our narrator Mrs Hawkins still lies awake at night, sometimes thinking about the events she is about to relate. In those days she was everybody’s confidante because she appeared very unthreatening.

I was a war widow, Mrs Hawkins. There was something about me, Mrs Hawkins, that invited confidences. I was abundantly aware of it, and indeed abundance was the impression I gave. I was massive in size, strong-muscled, huge-bosomed, with wide hips, hefty long legs, a bulging belly and a fat backside; I carried an ample weight with my five-foot-six of height, and was healthy with it. It was, of course, partly this physical factor that disposed people to confide in ne. I looked comfortable. (6-7)

But it was exactly this Mrs Hawkins who told Hector Bartlett that he was a pisseur de copie– a very rude way of trying to dissuade him from pressing his awful writing on her. When he tells her that he takes great pains with his prose she comments,

He did indeed. The pains showed. His writings writhed and ached with twists and turns and tergiversations, inept words, fanciful repetitions, far-fetched verbosity, and long, Latin-based words. (44)

[I was unfamiliar with the word tergiversations and had to look it up. It means ambiguities or evasions and is a Latin-based word.]

Hector Bartlett is offended by her description of him and as he is well connected he begins to plot his revenge on her. She looses two jobs in publishing because she refuses to back down from her assessment. The humour turns dark as Hector Bartlett continues his machinations, and at least two people die before the end of the story, and another flees to America.

Reading Muriel Spark

This is my fourth contribution to #ReadingMuriel2018 and I have come to understand that she was a very moral writer. In A Far Cry from Kensington she is concerned with integrity. She shows us the necessity of acting with integrity in one’s life and in one’s work. Many of the people in the novel do not act with integrity: they are fraudsters, con artists, over-indulgent parents, irresponsible young things, manipulated by others and so on. There are also many good people among her characters.

Her depiction of the publishing world in the 1950s, which she knew, reveals how few people care about the written word and how many of them are more concerned with their reputation, connections or just hanging on to their job. Hector (note the name) Bartlett and the people who espouse the radionics Box earn the grief that lands on them. She depicts Radionics as a kind of cult, preying on people’s weaknesses.

In A Far Cry from Kensington Muriel Spark displays a consciousness about writing and good writing in particular. In the first place her main character works in publishing and is happiest editing text and preparing it for publication. Muriel Spark uses this device to offer advice about writing a good story. She suggests it should be undertaken as if writing privately to a friend and without thought of the general public. Not bad advice. And she makes frequent references to the events of the plot which is placed in the past, as if to provide shape and reflection upon the events, as a writer does.

By noting these aspects of the novel I by no means wish to deny the fun and vivacity of this novel. It’s a good read.

More Muriel Spark

This is my fourth contribution to #ReadingMuriel2018, hosted by Heavenali. You will find reviews of Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means  and The Abbess of Crewe  on this blog.

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark, published in1988. I read the Virago Modern Classics edition 194pp. It has an introduction by Ali Smith.

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I did not read The Phantom Tollbooth  as a child for the simple reasons that I missed its publication and was soon too old. So when I read Lucy Mangan’s enthusiastic comments in Bookworm I decided to see what I had missed. She described her delight when it was read to the class by her primary teacher and how she longed for the daily readings. From this experience she found that …

… words weren’t just markings on a page to be passively absorbed and enjoyed but could be tools, treasures and toys all in one. (219 in Bookworm by Lucy Mangan)

What a gift from Norton Juster! She recalled Milo ‘the first unlikeable central character’ she had ever come across. But recalled also the pace, wit, invention, action and wordplay which fell from the pages ‘like sweets tumbling from a bag.’ This, I thought, I should read.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Milo is introduced as follows.

There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always. (13)

Milo is clever and has lots of books and toys but he has no friends and does not settle to anything, is not interested in what he learns at school and sees ‘the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time at all’. Until one day he finds a package containing a tollbooth in his room and in his toy car he pays his toll and sets out on a journey to Dictionopolis, which is marked on the map that was supplied with the booth.

He arrives in Expectations where he meets the Whether Man and soon finds himself in the Doldrums. He is rescued by the Watchdog called Tock, who will not let him kill or waste time and joins him on his adventures. Later they meet Humbug. They find problems in the land that arise from the banishment of the princesses Rhyme and Reason by two warring brothers. The princesses were banished for refusing to adjudicate between the relative importance of numbers and words.

Our three heroes set off to rescue the princesses, [it is the early ‘60s and the second wave of feminism had not yet broken] meeting on the way such characters as the Spelling Bee, Officer (Short) Shrift, Faintly Macabre the Official Which, Dischord and Dynne and musicians who play colours, the .58 of a child from the average family which had 2.58 children, the Senses Taker and so on. They visited both Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, and when they return with the princesses harmony is restored, although squabbling breaks out as soon as Milo makes his farewells.

When the three friends meet the princesses Reason explains the importance of learning, from experience, from mistakes, and for its own sake. When Milo complains about what he has to learn in school having so little significance now she explains,

‘…for whatever you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.’ (234)

And when he returns home and finds that the tollbooth has disappeared, he realises that his books will open doors to other worlds, and there is so much to do.

Here’s Lucy Mangan’s assessment:

It remains a masterfully wrought, glorious, hilarious, life affirming read – a celebration of words, ideas, sense, nonsense, cleverness and silliness but also a love of learning for its own sake. I suspect, in a world in which education is increasingly being reduced to futile box-ticking and forcible rendering into measurable quantities that which can never be made tangible, this is a message that will only become more revelatory and valuable to those lucky enough to hear it. (221 in Bookworm by Lucy Mangan)

Norton Juster

Norton Juster was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929. When he wrote this book he was trying to write one for children about cities, having trained as an architect. Apparently he had not, at that point, read Lewis Carroll, which is surprising because Alice in Wonderland is precisely what came to mind when I read it.

Famously he also shared an apartment building with Jules Feiffer, who was just making his name as a draughtsman. Jules Feiffer’s illustrations are an integral part of The Phantom Tollbooth.He captures Milo’s innocence and pre-adolescent energy perfectly.

Norton Juster went on to make a career as an architect and an academic, and he also published more books, some of them for children. None seem to have met with the acclaim of this one. It is, with justification, known as a classic. It is also great fun.

Bookwormby Lucy Mangan reviewed on Bookword in July 2018.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton JusterFirst published in the US in 1961. I used the Harper Collins 50thAnniversary Edition (Essential Modern Classics). 256pp. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer.

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