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Literature & Fiction Recommendations

She

She by H Rider Haggard

Sometimes you need to go back to the original roots of a legend. Having watched the Ursula Andress version of the movie as a small child I couldn't resist this reprint which I spotted recently in a bookshop. “She” is an original Boys Own Story. It tells of a couple of Cambridge academics who embark on a journey into Africa. Following fragments of ancient manuscript they discover a lost kingdom ruled by the immortal queen Ayesha - She Who Must Be Obeyed. Our heroes are promised the secret of immortality, but at the last moment their hopes are dashed and they return to England with nothing, except their unbelievable tale.

Compared to modern fiction the pace is slow, the descriptions lengthy and the attitudes racist and sexist. So what is the enduring attraction of She? For me, it is because this predated all other adventure fantasies and started a new style of fiction. Without H Rider Haggard there would have been no Indiana Jones and more recently The Mummy.

Helen Holmes

Summer Book

Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is well known for her Moomins stories, but this is not about them. The Summer Book gives us a little glimpse into the lives of Sophia and her grandmother as they spend summer months together on their tiny island. Tove’s neice and mother inspired the stories which are set on the island where she and her brother built a summer house.

Although called a novel, it is made up of short stories which all stand alone. Each will make you smile as you are drawn into the world of the inquisitive Sophia and her grandmother. Grandmother listens to Sophia and responds to her questions and musings, sometimes seriously, but more often with wild adventures and daydreams.

They spend time exploring every part of their island and the surrounding area. You feel the respect one must give to an island where everything is a fragile balance. Just a few other characters cross the pages - Sophie’s father and some passing visitors. Mostly you experience what’s important when you’re quite young or quite old and have time and imagination enough to ponder such things as: worms that you cut in two with a spade; whether God listens and does what you ask; death, and whether heaven and hell exist; how real is all feels when you camp outside; and the excitment of midsummer.

The Summer Book is a joy and pleasure to read at any time of the year - you’ll return to it again and again.

Theresa Howe

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