Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Tale of Hill Top Farm - Susan Wittig Albert

I've been away on holiday you know.  In company of my learned colleague and all round good egg (rolled on a barber shop floor) Scott.   Cruising round the Mediterranean, he taking photos of things, me typing furiously away at the Great Novel on Notes on an iPad (that teaches you to have nerves of steel - push the wrong button and 'whoosh!' - due to the lack of an Undo facility everything you wrote disappears beyond hope of rescue - like writing using pee in snow and hoping it doesn't turn cold any time soon*).

Anyway, obviously I did a bit of reading too, in the gaps between tramping round Cadiz's narrow streets with Julie and Cam and taking the wee train to the beach in Corsicaand whizzing down Lisbon's steep hills on a tra which cost a pound as opposed to Edinburgh's 3/4 of a billion.

Spcifically, I read Susan Wittig Albert's 'The Tale of Hill Top Farm' and finished it with a great desire to read not only the rest of the books in the author's series of Beatrix Potter stories but also the various biographies of Potter listed in the acknowledgements and even the likes of The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.

For one thing, it's a great idea.  Unlike the often dull trend for having A N Historical Figure solving crimes for no apparent reason other than implausible authorial caprice - the Jane Austen Investigates school of fiction - this is a sweetly heart-felt fictional biography of a certain period in Potter's life, complete with small village crimes and misdemeanours, mischief not murder, misuderstanding not mayhem.  Two pounds is misplaced, a church registry goes missing and - most criminally of all - a small painting disappears.  That's the extent of the nefarious activity in this book.  Instead of criminal masterminds, the author gives the reader an array of lovingly sketched village characters (think of Mrs Gaskell's Cranford, and you wouldn't be far wrong) and, brilliantly, the thoughts of both Beatrix's pets and the village animals.  I particularly liked the way that the human characters react to the speech of the cats and dogs - hearing only squeaking and mewing as the animals discuss the events around them.

Had the animals remained as just that - animals who can speak amongst themselves - then I'd have been delighted, but Ms Albert inserts an extra layer of non-human characters which jarred for me (though I know it worked for other readers).  An owl professor with a telescope in his tree suffers from obvious comparisons with the very similar friend of Pooh Bear, but he, Fritz the Ferret and the various rats, all of whom wear cutdown human clothing, feel out of place - creatures from an entirely different sort of story.  Obviously that entirely different sort of story is one of Miss Potter's own, which feels like something of a mis-step to me.  On a similar note, it seems reasonable that a cat might learn to read by listening to her mistress reading out loud, but silly that the same cat would think to write a note for the humans to read.

Still, after reading this first installment, I immediately bought the rest of the series for my Kindle - and you can't say fairer than that, considering I had the on-ship delights of Berni Flint in Concert and Paul Daniels' laddie doing magic tricks as an alternative source of amusement.

* Actually, that's a rubbish comparison, but I just got cleaning chemicals in my eye and it hurts a lot, so I can possibly be forgiven.

No comments:

Post a Comment