Archive for the ‘J.M. Barrie’ Category

Oh dear.  If there is one book I recommend you not read it is Tommy and Grizel by J.M. Barrie.  Barrie is hit and miss at the best of times so I did not have had high expectations going in but I still didn’t expect something this dull and repetitious.  If I hadn’t been reading it for my Century of Books (I was really eager to check 1900 off), I would have abandoned it after the first hundred pages.

Tommy and Grizel is the sequel to Sentimental Tommy, which I’ve never read but the title alone gives you a pretty firm idea of Tommy’s character.  His biographer, who is relating Tommy’s life to us, is not overly fond of his subject, which leads to some delightfully critical remarks.  The book actually began well; the narrator’s constant jabs at Tommy and determination to not say anything that would make the reader think well of him are rather amusing.  For example, when Tommy launches himself on London and his idea of himself begins to inflate, he wants to leave behind the name of his childhood.  Our narrator will have none of it: “…to be called Tommy by anyone was now detestable to him (which is why I always call him Tommy in these pages).”

When first arrived in London, Tommy works for Pym, a hack writer of sensational stories.  He dictates these to Tommy and, slowly, Tommy begins adding his own polishes, awed by his own talent.  What he actually creates is incredibly poorly written sentimental drivel that no one wants to read.  Pym is horrified when he finally finds out about Tommy’s modifications:

The plot was lost for chapters.  The characters no longer did anything, and then went and did something else: you were told instead how they did it.  You were not allowed to make up your own mind about them: you had to listen to the mind of T. Sandys; he described and he analysed; the road he had tried to clear through the thicket was impassable for chips. 

T. Sandys finally makes his mark as the author of the extremely priggish and extremely popular Letters to a Young Man About to be Married, in which he waxes poetic on the nobility of women and the responsibility of man.  So far, so good.  The narrator was still making enough fun of Tommy to keep me interested.

But then Tommy returns to his home town in Scotland and is reunited with Grizel, his childhood love with as tragic a background as a sentimentalist could wish, and the rest of the book is a tedious and wandering exercise in descriptive writing.  I could not bear it.  The narrator doesn’t want us to like Tommy and, trust me, I was at no time tempted to like him.  Or Grizel.  Or, really, anyone in the entire book (except maybe the narrator and even he earned my wrath by going on and on and on).

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Last night with no book on the go, I picked up Peter Pan for the first time in years and read the first three perfect chapters before going to bed.  We all have our favourite opening lines but few (even my favourite “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”) match Barrie’s wonderful ”All children, except one, grow up.”  Is it possible to put the book down after reading that?  To not wonder who that one child is and why – and how – he doesn’t grow up?  In that one short sentence, in those six simple words, is the promise of the entire story: of Neverland and Captain Hook, of Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys, of all the extraordinary things that happen to the Darling children that every child and most adults wish would happen to them.  It is magic and it works just as well on me at twenty-six as it did at six.

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