Thursday, 17 December 2015

Finally a sequel-ly good read!

Return to the Secret Garden - Holly Webb.

Warning this blog post may contain spoilers - but as these are plot points from books published over 100 years ago I don't mind!

I don't have a great track record reading the modern sequels to books I adored as a child. The Return to Hundred Acre Wood is a book that I can't get out of my mind and I really didn't like another sequel to a Frances Hodgson Burnett book either.

Thus it was with trepidation I reserved Return to the Secret Garden from the library.  I'm so pleased that I did.  Webb has not continued the book from the immediate end but has moved the story on to a WW2 setting. Orphans housed at London orphanage are evacuated to Misstlethwaite Manor in September 1939 and have to learn to adapt to their new life.

At first I was worried that the book was just going to be a slightly modernised retelling of the original: a sad, lonely, and bad tempered orphan arrives in the new place and immediately finds a robin who leads her around the garden to a more secret place and she also hears crying in the night... So far so derivative.

Webb however is skilled enough to use these elements that are familiar from the original to weave a new tale but that lovingly references all of the original plot elements and characters. I was very happy to be surprised by the book, and I am not ashamed to say that it did bring a huge lump to my throat in more than one place.

Like so many of the modern adaptations it isn't as long or as complex as the original but as sequels go I loved it.

Which was a relief as earlier in the year I'd read Jacqueline Wilson's updated version of What Katy Did, called simply Katy.

In this, the first half really is a rewrite of the original just modernised and as someone very familiar with the original I was bored, it didn't work and I wondered why on earth anyone would read this and not the Coolidge one.

However after Katy's accident the book changed completely and I found it to be a convincing and realistic read of how this little girl would have reacted after a life changing accident.  Also an improvement on the original is the loss of the moralising, the idea of the saintly invalid and also the miraculous recovery!

This really was a book of two halves and I am glad I carried on to the end but for anyone familiar with the original I suggest skipping ahead to the middle, the start adds nothing.

So a mixed bag for sequels/rewrites of classic books this year. I am intrigued to read Kate Saunder's Five Children on the Western Front but this will be a different sort of read as I've never yet managed to finish the original!

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