Book Club: Fargate from the Madding Crowd

Anna Caig
Anna Caig

In celebration of the United Nations Universal Children’s Day, on November 20, I have chosen a children’s book to read this fortnight.

This one is such a cracker that it will appeal to adults of all ages, as well as age eight and above.

Reader reviews are welcome from children and well as adults this fortnight.

Get in touch via twitter @AnnaCaig or email copydesk.southyorks@jpress.co.uk

The next read of the fortnight will be Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas on December 8.

Reader reviews deadline December 15.

The deadline for reader reviews of The Nowhere Emporium is December 1.

Read of the fortnight: The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie.

I am a firm believer that a love of reading is the best gift you can give your child. Admittedly, this may be because I have failed to give mine a love for cleaning their teeth properly, or picking things up from their bedroom floors.

Reading is a way for children, and the adults they become, to live many lives, travel in time, learn empathy as well as understand their own feelings, experience the world through different eyes. But most of all to have fun. To have an escape for life, and to never ever be bored. Books for children that capture their imagination, and help to instil a lifelong love of reading, are precious indeed.

The Nowhere Emporium is just such a book. It synthesises so much that is familiar, and compelling, in the best writing for children. There have been stories about orphans, and about magic, for time immemorial. Likewise stories about loneliness and friendship; nightmares becoming reality and dreams coming true. MacKenzie visits all these familiar tropes, and more, with such a fresh, simple style that he makes them feel new; makes us feel the pain and the joy again like it’s the first time.

And there’s a reason why stories have included these elements forever. It’s because they’re irresistible.

The emporium of the title is a labyrinth of rooms, each containing a different fantasy or magical experience. It travels around the world, and through time, powered by the imaginations of those who visit. Our hero Daniel discovers the emporium one day in Glasgow as he is looking for somewhere to hide from bullies. Daniel is well and truly bewitched, as are we, by its magic, its fascinating but tortured owner Mr Silver, and the mystery of how it all works.

The story takes flight when Daniel joins forces with Ellie, Mr Silver’s daughter, to save the emporium from an evil stranger. It is like some kind of children’s book archetype-fest. But it’s done so well, and there are enough twists and turns to keep us hooked.

Exploring the nowhere emporium is like spending time inside the beauty and chaos of childhood imagination. I reckon all adults should read a book like this once in a while. It seems like we’re not supposed to lose ourselves in escapist, over-the-top plots after the age of about 16.

So, maybe books like this are important because they help adults remember there’s still a big kid inside.

Reader’s Review: Regeneration by Pat Barker

Kate in Nether Edge says: Regeneration is a book that’s stayed with me. It tells the story of the poet Siegfried Sassoon who, after writing a declaration protesting against the continuation of the war, was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in 1917 alongside traumatised soldiers instead of being court-marshalled.

His doctor Rivers’ job is to make him, and his other patients, healthy enough to fight, but his conscience is questioned.

The novel throws up lots of things to think about: the horror of the war, its characters’ struggles to make sense of right and wrong and their mental state. The men being treated by Rivers are observed with such sympathetic objectivity that it’s easy to see how they, and others, are affected by the things that have happened to them.

I felt all different things when reading Regeneration – sadness, sympathy, horror, the struggle to always know what’s right and wrong. It was a powerful description of the devastation of the First World War which led to the death of around 17 million soldiers and civilians. And it made me want to be that bit nicer to people, and hope that we will always remember what happened.

Reyt as Rain reads... books to make it better

Reuben in Totley says: I would like to get a book for my mum for Christmas but don’t know what to choose. She likes PD James and Ruth Rendell. Can you recommend some different crime writers? Being retired, something big would be welcome.

Anna says: There is something so delicious about curling up with a good crime book, especially in winter. This is also one of my favourite genres of writing, so I have a couple of absolute corkers to recommend.

The first is The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin. This is a book about a series of revolting, gruesome murders set in New Orleans during the birth of the jazz era. One of the characters is a young Lewis (as it is spelled throughout the book) Armstrong.

Celestin succeeds in portraying the seedy, sinister glamour of 1919 New Orleans. The food, the music and the landscapes are all vividly portrayed, and it reads like a love letter to a complicated and fascinating city after an affair that left great memories, but maybe required a trip to the doctors afterwards.

The plot is given extra piquancy through the inclusion of elements of real events. There was an ‘Axeman’ serial killer in New Orleans in 1918 and 1919. And a letter supposedly written by the killer was printed in the newspaper, prompting the city to hold one almighty night of partying and music. But other than this, Celestin has no pretensions to be telling a ‘true story’. He fully exploits the opportunities presented by the context in the city at that time: the growth of the mafia, the changing racial landscape and tensions, the burgeoning jazz scene, the vestiges of voodoo – to create a story that mixes all these elements together in a big delicious jambalaya of a plot.

My second recommendation is a little bit different, in that it is a non-fiction book. A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley explores a question that has long puzzled me: Why do we find stories of murder so comforting? Worsley’s theory is that the safer and more sedate our lives have become, and the less actual murder is going on, the more we enjoy hearing about it. It is the danger at arms length provided by a good murder that is comforting. I hope your mum finds this as reassuring as I do, as it means we are safe and sedate, rather than morbidly weird as I had feared.

Worsley provides us with well-researched insight into the history of murder as entertainment in Britain, and one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the way that this goes hand in hand with the history of policing and the history of journalism, all developing together in this dysfunctional but highly symbiotic relationship. Genuinely illuminating stuff.

I’m jealous of the Christmas your mum will be having, and I’m sure she will be so thrilled you’ll get an extra roast potato on your Christmas dinner.

What would you recommend for Reuben to buy for his mum?