Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Temples of Malplaquet - Andrew Dalton

Andrew Dalton’s The Temples of Malplaquet is the first in a trilogy of sequels to T H White’s Mistress Masham's Repose, which is itself a sequel to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I have to say I am somewhat wary of sequels by other hands; sometimes they are very good, such as William Horwood’s sequels to Kenneth Graeme’s The Wind in the Willows, but sometimes they are not so good, I once began reading a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which failed so badly at capturing Austen’s tone and language that I couldn’t finish it. I thoroughly enjoyed White’s book; Maria is a lively and entertaining protagonist, and being an oppressed child, can empathise well with the Lilliputians who are hiding on the lake island. However, I didn’t feel that Dalton quite manages to pull off the same feat with his sequel. 13 year old Jamie, whom the Lilliputians and their guardian, “Granny”, believe to be the Lilliputians’ prophesied Guide, has things fairly easy; his parents give him a laptop for his 13th birthday, and “Granny” gives him a rowing boat that she has built from a kit.

The story is fast-paced, and it actually felt too fast to me (ironically, given how fast a reader I am); I felt that there was insufficient time to get to know the characters before events overtook them. The story is also very modern (as indicated by the fact that Jamie is given a laptop), something which shows most clearly in the language in which it is written. I know I have rather an old fashioned liking for older forms of English, but anyone who is a lover of the English language, cannot fail to appreciate such phrasing as “Then [Maria] would be mad with pleasure, a sort of earnest puppy, rushing about with the slipper of her imagination, tearing the heart out of it.” (p. 10, Mistress Masham’s Repose) or “The farmer who rented the land was chasing his sheep about, with a hot-buttered face […]” (pp. 10-11). Poetic language such as that captures the reader’s imagination and feeds it; prosaic, 21st century prose does not, I feel.

The brevity of Dalton’s book also disappointed me. I felt that he might have been better publishing the trilogy as one longer story, instead of splitting it into three stories. I really wanted more time to explore the world in which the Lilliputians were now living, and to get to know the characters better. The story also lacks any real sense of threat or danger to the Lilliputian world, which its precursor had in abundance.

All in all, I felt a sense of disappointment with this story; it didn’t quite live up to its promise, which was a shame. Jonny Boatfield's illustrations, on the other hand, are charming and fit very well with the world of the Lilliputians, and are very reminiscent of Edward Ardizonne. Boatfield has created a rather good-looking picture book, The Twilight Book, for which I will have to look in the library.

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