I’ve just finished reading Philip Pullman’s new(ish) book, ‘The Book of Dust’. It’s the first part of his ‘Belle Sauvage’ trilogy, and seems to be a prequel to Northern Light, which I guess I read about 10 years ago and still remember the thrill. Especially engaging was the fact that every human character has a daemon – a little animal which is part of you, a constant companion, which accompanies you through all the joys and sorrows of life.
One of the most immediately-attractive things about this book is that it has pictures in it. Lovely black and white illustrations, which took me straight back to the 10-year-old delights of Swallows and Amazons and all the other Arthur Ransomes. Drawings are so evocative; spread through the text, they seem to give you a breather, help you visualise what you are reading and check your understanding. And in their own right they are so downright enjoyable. After half a page of ‘Dust’, I was hooked.
I remember however being encouraged to read books without illustrations – pictures were for babies – you were a big girl, or a clever girl, when you could read a whole book without pictures. What a shame. Nowadays we’re all so much more visually aware so I hope for lots more illustrations in my reading materials henceforth.
The hero of this book is 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead, who lives with his parents in an inn on the Thames near Oxford. His mother serves up big hearty plates of old-fashioned food as bar suppers, and to Malcolm at the kitchen table. Steak and Kidney Pudding. Cauliflower Cheese. Rhubarb and Custard. When Malcolm has to endure some pretty gruelling experiences in protecting Lyra from the nasty Child Protection people, it’s the memory of his mother’s cooking that makes him homesick. And sustains him for the perilous journey. Well done, Mrs Polstead. I’m with you.
I’ve just written a book of food memories, entitled ‘A Life in Mouthfuls’, and am teetering towards self-publication. I asked a couple of people to read it and give me an endorsement for the back cover, and here’s some of what I’ve got back so far:
“… brought back happy memories of my own where various meals were associated with family members who are no longer with us. I remember a great aunt who always served us lunch of ‘toad in the hole’. My Grandmother had a particularly good recipe for beef olives!”
“… beautifully reflects what happens around our own kitchen tables, where people come together for company, conversation and peer support.”
Very happy to have evoked some of what Philip Pullman has evoked for me. Will keep you posted re my book! Have a nice dinner tonight.