The late great Sir Christopher Lee may have re-read Lord of the Rings cover to cover once a year every year, and I might even claim the same book as my all time favourite, but I have never re-read it as he did.
That is not to say that, once read, I ignore these literary gems. It is more a matter of dipping in and out, of picking up those moments that piqued me so much that I replay them over and over. (Like Henry the eponymously referenced time traveller in Audrey Niffenberger's great book finding his curse/gift drags him back to frequently revisit key nodal points in his life.) From Lord of the Rings who can forget the lines that captured the moment
"Begone foul dwimmerlaik, Lord of Carrion, leave the dead in peace"
"I am an emissary and may not be assailed"
"Where such laws hold it is customary for ambassadors to use less insolence."
"I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil."
But at the same time I have never revisited the mysterious enigma that was Tom Bombadil and the digression of the hobbits' time with him.
To that extent I have treated the books I loved like the sporting events I most admired, be it a great test cricket match, or a brilliant game of football. I will re-watch and savour the highlights, the goals, the wickets and the near misses but I do not replay the entire game.
There are of course those childhood books, the bedtime favourites which are endlessly read and re-read - "Amy Said" "Each Peach, Pear, Plum" "We're going in a Bear hunt" Books so ingrained in my mind by repetition that I barely need the book to re-read them. There are also a very few short stories, consumed at a gallop which bear a line by line word by word rediscovery - most notably Mark Lawrence's "During the Dance."
But until I met Bryony Adams, the delightful heroine of Mercedes M Yardley's "All the Pretty Dead Girls" I am sure that I have never re-read anything of more than a few thousand words cover to cover.
And such an exceptional circumstance merits an appropriate response. A second read, deserves a second review. Not just to consider what drew me back again following Bryony on the life long journey towards her tragic fate, but also what new discoveries I made.
My original review is here My later thoughts as follows
While I do not re-read books much, I do listen to certain songs over and over again. There is something about music, and especially familiar music, which envelopes me, shrouding out the rest of the world in a mix of sound and poetry and symbolism. And there is a similar part musical, part poetic quality to the whimsical writing of Pretty little dead Girls.
The writing is unashamedly surreal. There is fate personified as a hissing malevolent desert. There is a sadistic killer who is a scrupulously polite indeed good young man in all things except in the matter of murdering people, and even then he views the perceived evil in his actions as a matter of personal perspective rather than moral absolutes. There is the impossibility of everyone's knowledge that Bryony is destined to be a murderer's victim and the struggles they experience in coming to terms with that.
The great sad songs are not just beautiful sounds, but have words which touch on deep themes of love, of loss even of death and it is that blend which turns beautiful into great, which makes the harmonious also moving. It is that which makes us listen not just inspite of, but because of knowing the ending. In the same way Pretty little dead Girls resonates, for me at least, because it holds up a surreal mirror which does not distort so much as highlight what it is to be human.
There is throughout the book that fragility of human existence which we forget at our peril, along with the evil inhumanity which lurks within humanity. A picture taken this week of poor Alyan Kurdi on a beach is another poignant reminder of these simple truths. It is perhaps when we are in the shadow of death that we value and appreciate life most of all, maybe even it is only then that we are at our most alive.
Bryony Adams lives her entire life in the shadow of a horrific death and it is that which makes her possibly the most alive heroine I have ever read. It also makes her a potential Mary-Sue (or as I once thought it Pollyanna), a character of such unblemished virtue, such saintly forbearance, that she might be considered an irritation to read about - just too good. But it is not flawed virtue which makes a character interesting, it is the compassion they engender in the reader, which Bryony draws out aplenty. And in any case Bryony is flawed - a flaw that clouds her relationships and constrains her lifestyle.
Bryony is of particular interest to me, as a writer, because my current work in progress features a virtuous and kind heroine who, to some might seem a Mary-Sue/Pollyanna cross. It is at once reassuring and humbling to see Mercedes M Yardley manage so deftly a heroine with so many perfections. But then, like Bryony my Persapha too is flawed.
- Bryony's flaw is that destiny that stalks her - she is fated to become a serial killer's victim.
- Persapha too is stalked by unkind destiny - she is fated to become a serial killer.
I had entirely missed the significance of Jeremy in my rapid first read, or at least forgotten it in the intervening months.
I discovered and smiled at the line "They stopped by the first Starbucks..." I mean how many Starbucks does any one market need to have, and I thought of a Simpsons shot of Bart walking along a shopping arcade where every shop closed and re-opened as a starbucks as he passed it.
Even the cover offers itself for rediscovery, the innocent white capitalised text of the first and last words PRETTY GIRLS bracketing the horrifically coupled adjectives "little dead" in subtler lower case red which lie between them. A motif repeated in the author's name, with the middle initial M in red, should we read M for Murder?
And then in the later pages, when the omniscient narrator speaks directly to the reader, I picked up the reference to jonquils and googled them as instructed.
So here, we leave for the time the addictive story of Bryony Adams with an image of her favourite flowers. This is the book, of all that I have read, which is most like a song and I have need of books like that, maybe we all do at times. It is, as far as I can recall, the first book I have entirely re-read; it is possible it may also be the second, the third and the fourth.
|Source Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_jonquilla|