Category: 42 Word Retrospectives

Wilberforce and the Blue Cave

Wilberforce and the Blue Cave by Leslie Coleman; ill. John Laing (Blackie and Son, 1974 / Hamlyn, 1977) An innocent chapter book adventure weakened by several allusions far above the reading level, and by the rampant proliferation of stereotypes. The humorous appeal seems predicated on the fact that Wilberforce and friends perform everyday acts (unfolding maps, etc.) while living underwater.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl (Alfred A. Knopf, 1972); audiobook read by Douglas Hodge (Random House Audio, 2013) A protracted example of Dahl’s rollicking lunacy, though in this instance lacking a greater storyline to lend substance beyond the jovial alien invasion, American caricaturing, silly rhymes, and terrible comeuppances visited upon cantankerous adults. Douglas Hodge narrates a…

The Haunting

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (Atheneum, 1982); audiobook read by Richard Mitchley (Bolinda, 2015) A surprising, decidedly non-formulaic play on genre expectations. The speculative element remains secondary to what Mahy does best—which is to depict relatable child characters (usually of the unheralded variety) surviving and even flourishing in unromanticised, often broken or ‘found’ family settings.

Hot Water

Hot Water by P G Wodehouse (Herbert Jenkins, 1932); audiobook read by Jonathan Cecil (Blackstone, 2012) Not from one of Wodehouse’s famous series, but ably representative of his work. There are facetious conversations and flippant undertakings aplenty—ill-fated engagements; romantic entanglements and misunderstandings; comedowns and comeuppances—all steaming towards each other like ocean liners converging on an iceberg.

Agaton Sax and the Max Brothers

Agaton Sax and the Max Brothers by Nils-Olof Franzén; ill. Quentin Blake (Andre Deutsch, 1970) [also published as “Agaton Sax and the Bank Robbers”] Assured and often droll (especially the conversations) but lacking the madcap joie de vivre of other Agaton Sax capers. The great detective’s secretive master-plan lacks the usual proactiveness—he and Lispington mostly trail after the crooks, indulging…