Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cuckoo in the Nest

I have just finished reading “Cuckoo in the Nest” by Michelle Magorian. Both Kat and Best Beloved had read it previously and both wanted me to read it to see my reaction. It took me two days but I have guffawed and wept in equal measure as I read through the story of the Hollis family in the winter of 1946 and early spring of 1947. This was exactly the period in which I was born (January 1947) and the book recounts vividly one of the worst winters in recorded history.

It concerns a working class lad who has been to grammar school and gained his School Certificate. This puts him at odds with his family, especially his father, and his background. I know we all claim to come from the working class but I really did. I also went to Carlton Grammar School when I was 11 and gained my GCSEs. I recognise the syndrome of being a Cuckoo in the nest.

The empathy is doubled as one reads about the Palace theatre, Winford and Ralph (‘Rayfe’ as the actors pronounce it) tries to embark on an actor’s life. I loved the descriptions and accounts of the life backstage and eventually onstage. Magorian lovingly reconstructs the theatrical company. I loved the way Ralph falls for the beautiful stage manager, Isla. “He had been aware that he found Isla attractive, but he did not realise how deep his feelings for her were. It was as though someone had taken his heart out, smashed it into pieces and shoved it back in again without putting it back together again, so that everything hurt and jangled inside him.” (page 92).

There is something intoxicating about the theatre that invites deep passions. “…..Ralph felt such a mixture of tenderness and desire to get right inside the very skin of her that it overwhelmed him. Yet he felt fiercely protective of her too.” (page 342). I just think Magorian captures feelings so clearly and well; and feelings that I know and recognise keenly.

The standing in the wings, the rehearsals and the camaraderie of it all is poignantly caught. Watching an actor’s performance transform onstage into a thing of truth and beauty is described and caught so well. Finally the characterisations of Mrs. Egerton- Smythe and John Hollis, the father, are so well drawn I felt I knew them both as people I would want in my own life rather than simply as an author’s creations in a book. I must admit I sobbed at the end. Thank you, Michelle Magorian!

I finished the book in two days and now have given myself a quandary. I am achieving my target of one novel per week without any difficulty and thoroughly enjoying the experience. However this is the second week running that I have finished the book by Monday night and so have four more days left in the week. Admittedly the books are not the great classics and therefore capable of being read thoroughly but quickly. I suppose I could up my target to perhaps two novels per week. However I also have a great backlog of modern plays I have bought and not yet read. Therefore I could spend the time profitably working my way through some of those. I have transferred the rest of this internal debate about reading plays with a list of my current play library to my sister page, “Bench Hamlet 2008”, which I consider a more suitable venue for the rest of my ramblings on this subject.

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