Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pleasure and pain

I hardly dare admit it. By the time you are sipping your chilled chardonnay and preparing for another evening of Celebrity Big Brother, I'm already upstairs in the attic bedrooms. Once there, I put on a squeaking voice and pretend to be Mr Wopsle.

If you do not know who Mr Wopsle is, that is probably because you are a well-rounded uptotheminute individual. I bet you live in the twenty first century, know what dongles are, and can converse about the likely trajectory of Vinnie Jones' career.

Think of me, then. Upstairs, I am living in a Victorian drama. I tell everyone I have tried to get out.

I am reading Great Expectations by Dickens, to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger as their bedtime story.

I will admit I quite like Dickens. OK, I confess to a prolonged affair with Trollope too. Sometimes I still gaze at him, wistfully. Then he winks at me from his place on the top shelf, but really, I haven't got the time. I may fondle his crinkly pages again in my retirement.

But Dickens. And Great Expectations. I am upstairs with both. With Dickens, you wade through a lot of prose and strange referencing to Victorian practices of grease-selling, then suddenly there it is. A lawyer with a black chair like a coffin. A man who staggers and falls backwards upon a sofa in the manner of a dying gladiator. The silent frustrations of one who pulls themselves up by their own hair. And I act that out, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger all laugh, and want another chapter.

Yet although you can guess I strangely enjoy this bedtime book, I also wish it were over.

Mostly, because it is hard work, reading all that long sentence prose when it is evening, and you have to add all the voices, some of the actions, and your audience is getting in and out of the bath while traipsing wet and dripping and towel clad across the story-reading place, which is a furry chair propped up against the radiator on the hall landing.

It's not over quickly, either. This story routine can go on for hours. I'm not telling you that last night I finally managed to coax lights out at 11.30pm.

Then there is all the explaining to do. Why does Miss Haversham want Pip to play? Why did Jaggers bite his finger? Why does Biddy get cross? After fifteen minutes of sounding like an English teacher I want to slap myself around the face to shut myself up.

So this is why despite the pleasure, there is also pain, and I wish it were done.

And if you're wondering, Great Expectations is Tiger's choice. She pulled it off a bookshelf and said, that one. I wanted Kit's Wilderness by David Almond. I'll claim that next.

Meanwhile, I feel strangely cut off from normal life, with Great Expectations in the attic bedrooms. Is Dickens a must-read these days? Do children read him? Do they know who he is? Or is it only us, reading about Jaggers till past eleven, wondering about butter fat and cobweb cakes, knowing there is only one answer to my half-hearted question, Do I really have to read another chapter?


Ceri said...

We started reading A Christmas Carol over Christmas. It was dh's idea and therefore his job. Funnily enough, they read about 2 chapters and the book is now gathering dust until I give in and read it with them!

Sam said...

Ugh! I had to study Great Expectations at school, which rather put me off, I'm afraid.
However, you are the second person I know to seemingly enjoy reading it - perhaps I shall give it another shot?

Here we do long reading sessions and silly voices, but acting-out? - I take my hat off to you.

MadameSmokinGun said...

I'm super-impressed. We only ever get 2 chapters into anything as a gang effort. If I'm lucky. The last thing I read to Minx was the Girls Aloud story - in their own words. I can't do the voices.

The last thing I attempted en masse was Stuart Little. Halfway through the first chapter they had buggered off and put the DVD on.

sharon said...

I loved Dickens and had independently read most of them whilst still in primary school. Couldn't interest either of my sons in his books apart from A Christmas Carol and even that was an abridged version for kids. Possibly in the form of a Ladybird Classic? They watched 'Oliver' in various formats but wouldn't read it - too long with boring bits apparently!

Now you've reminded me of them, I may have to read them all again.

As an aside the younger one did read Charles Kingsley's Waterbabies which surprised me. Have you tried that one out with the gritlets yet?

katyboo1 said...

I love Dickens, and Trollope. I have cheated with my kids though. We started with the BBC adaptations and they love them. We sobbed through Bleak House and huzzah'd through Little Dorrit, and I will read them when the get a bit older. In the meantime we are nearly done with Tom's Midnight Garden, and due to start Swallows and Amazons. cue lots of inexpert mummy explaining on sailing techniques and the topography of the Lake District.

Grit said...

thanks for your comments folks! we have not tried waterbabes nor swallows and amazons, so i will add them to the list. on the immediate group list is kit's wilderness, boy in the striped pyjamas, and oliver twist.

the kids have their own lists. philip pullman has taken the crown completely from jeremy strong; anne fine and murpurgo are routinely around, and tiger has been complaining bruce coville has not yet arrived from amazon. she waited 4 hours, and still not here! crap service, eh?!

Kelly said...

Hate Dickens, love Trolloppe. But got roped into reading Great Expectations aloud when second son was playing Joe in stage version a couple of years ago. Managed to get through it. Currently reading Uncle Tom's Cabin to older three, Huckleberry Finn to younger two, just finished Hobbit with youngest, and reading Emma with number three. Must have different books on the go at all times for different combinations of sons in the house.

Grit said...

kelly, that is a classy list. c'mon dare you to TRASH. The Secret Kitten! possibly the worst set of kiddy book i ever yet saw. makes me so mad i should damn well write my own.

Kelly said...

Oh, I can trash all right. I used to be a children's book reviewer. The only book I have ever burned, both metaphically and literally, was a horrible boil of a book called The Pimple that Grew and Grew. And, dear Grit, actually, I did write my own. I wrote, wait for it, a children's (well, older children's)version of the first four of Shakespeare's Plantagenet histories (except with more actual history bits stuck in). But, since it seems unlikely that anyone will ever publish it, apparently I wrote it only for myself and my own patient children, who have been forced to listen to it many, many times. So for them Emma and Uncle's Tom Cabin are a blessed relief.

Kelly said...

Ummm, that was meant to be "metaphorically."