Sunday, 3 April 2011
New-to-me authors (again)
Another reason why I like the British Library - just being able to search, order and read through an author's list. I don't suppose I would even have found Music at Pendragon (Paula Harris, 1959) if I hadn't been searching ABE for books illustrated by Ruth Gervis. It's the story of a music summer school and the ambitions and adventures of a group of teenagers in Cornwall - will they rise to the heights of soloist or be jobbing second desk viola players or find their niche in a related (hitherto unthought-of) field? The Ballet Shoes illustrations are so familiar to me that it's a bit of a shock to see her distinctive style covering Dior-ish generous skirts or lanky teenage boys sprawling in armchairs. A stately home in Cornwall houses a summer school for musicians of all ages each summer - think of the Christmas dancing school in The Abbey Girls in Town without the class snobbery or the folk dancing and you're on the right track. I'd recommend this author if you like 'performing' books and stories of sunshine, teas and music that's less 'show-offy, stage school beast' than Pamela Brown's gawky children. These are confident young people, but those living in ordinary middle-class households in the London suburbs, not 'country' children at all. Far from picnic-ing all over the countryside, like the outdoors-y types in Blyton, Ransome and similar of the pre-War age of children's fiction, these post-War children go home for supper and worried mothers ask their locust-like teenagers not to invite too many friends home as there isn't enough food in the house. The period overuse of 'my children' to refer to anyone younger than you are is one of those phrases that makes me flinch, but one that's easily ignored. Madrigals, classical and pop music are all given attention and enjoyed for their own sake - I like that inclusivity, rare in girl's own books, which often have an awkward relationship with "modern" teenagers and their interest in the present, not the idealised past so beloved of the author. These are teenagers familiar with suburban railway journeys home on the last train or wandering down the South Bank after a concert at the Festival Hall. I've had to do all of my Paula Harris reading in the BL. One day there may yet be an affordable copy of Star in the Family, though Cressida and the Opera (Gilbert and Sullivan coaxes a shy schoolgirl out of her shell) is probably the more interesting of the pair.