Thursday, September 21, 2006

Uninvited Ghosts - Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively's Uninvited Ghosts is a collection of short stories for younger readers about strange visitors: Martians, a talking dog, a dragon, and about strange transformations. Part of its charm is the ordinary lives that are being led by the children in the stories.

One of the most unusual stories is "Uninvited Ghosts": the ghosts can only be seen by the children of the house, Marian and Simon Brown, when they move into the house. The ghosts are not really scary, but they are a terrible nuisance. The children scream when they see the first ghost, but this proves useless, because the first ghost just tells them off, and she just sits there all night, clacking her knitting needles, humming and saying how much she likes "kiddies".

Shortly afterwards another ghost, Auntie Edna, arrives. Auntie Edna likes to suck peppermints, which smell so strong that even Mrs Brown can smell them, and she grows puzzled by her children's activities. The next visitor is ghostly Uncle Charlie who brings with him his ghostly dog Jip who sends the Browns' cat off howling. Marian and Simon try to get rid of the ghosts, suggesting that they would like a ride out into the country, hoping that the ghosts will take to country life and leave the house. But the ghosts complain that the country is dull, and the ghost dog is car sick (fortunately that's ghostly too).

Things start to get desperate and the children's mother becomes so alarmed with their behaviour, and their hearing of things she cannot hear, that she takes them to the doctor, who of course could find nothing wrong with them. Fortunately however, Mrs Brown meets Mrs Walker whose twin babies fling food, pull things off tables, and generally bawl all day long. Mrs Walker brings the babies to the Brown's house and the ghosts appear just as the babies are in the midst of causing their usual mayhem. The babies are totally transfixed by the ghosts, whilst the delighted ghosts themselves coo at the twins in a very friendly fashion. The babies respond, giving their desperate mother the first peace she has enjoyed for weeks. Marian and Simon realise this is too good an opportunity to miss and spend the night talking the ghosts into moving in with the Walkers. The next day they take the ghosts to the Walkers' house where they are welcomed by the babies, who had been bawling for hours. Whilst the Browns return to normal, the ghosts entertain the babies, and settle in so well, that to the astonishment of all that can see her, the ghost dog gives birth to ghost puppies.

The other story that I found really interesting was "Time Trouble", in which a boy is offered the chance to relive a miserable afternoon - and the offer comes from the grandfather clock in his hall. He rashly agrees to the deal that he can have that afternoon over again and the clock will have the following Wednesday afternoon instead. Unfortunately the miserable afternoon doesn't work out any better, and the Wednesday afternoon he gives up involves a trip to the cinema, a meal out at the local burger bar and an illicit afternoon off school, all courtesy of his uncle. Dismayed at having lost such a fabulous afternoon, the unnamed boy makes another deal with the clock to have the missing Wednesday afternoon back, and in return the clock will have two weeks worth of wasted time. The boy should have learnt by his first mistake as the afternoon out with his uncle isn't quite as enjoyable since he knows what's going to happen, and the two weeks in which all his wasted time is taken away turn out to be utterly exhausting...

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