Saturday, 20 December 2014

AUNT SASS: Christmas Stories by P.L.Travers reviewed by Adèle Geras

Fans of Mary Poppins, who are still legion, (though maybe not as numerous as the more recent droves of Frozen devotees,) will be thrilled with this little book. It's exactly the sort of thing any one of them would be delighted to find under the tree on Christmas morning but if this review is too late for that treat, then the volume will be equally welcome after the New Year.

This lovely edition comes from Virago as one of their Modern Classics and I'm grateful to them for sending it to me for review. I confess to being a lover of the Julie Andrews movie and also very fond of the more recent Saving Mr Banks, starring Emma Thomson and Tom Hanks. 

These little essays, or snatches of memoir, were given to the author's friends at Christmas time. Now, we can read them too, and they are quite delightful. We meet three characters who were clearly very important to the young Travers: Aunt Sass herself, who has a lot in common with Mary Poppins , a Chinese cook, and a foul-mouthed jockey who worked on the homestead in Australia where the author grew up.

Victoria Coren Mitchell's introduction is exemplary. She tells us just enough about the essays to arouse our interest and also to explain the context in which they were written. This is important because for modern readers, some of the ways Travers refers to Aboriginal Australians, or Chinese servants, or even Irish ones, and some of their reported speech will seem a bit...well, it's not how we refer to minorities these days and children especially need to have such difference in vocabulary and idiom explained to them.

I'm not sure how young the recipients of the original stories were and I'm also not sure how today's children will respond to this book, at least if reading it by themselves. It seems to me perfect for  reading aloud to someone younger while explaining things and interpreting the finer points of historical detail, but as Victoria Coren Mitchell says: "Many of the preoccupations of those wonderful novels appear in these pages: merry-go-rounds, gorgon nurses, small dogs, smart hats, suns and moons and comets and constellations."

I suspect it's a book for older people: an ideal present for a grandmother, say. P.L. Travers is a writer of very elegant and supple prose. She writes at the end of the first story, Aunt Sass:
'We write more than we know we are writing. We do not guess at the roots that made our fruit. I suddenly realise that there is a book through which Aunt Sass, stern and tender, secret and proud, anonymous and loving, stalks with her silent feet. You will find her occasionally in the pages of Mary Poppins.'

Finally, I would like to emphasise what a pleasure it is to read such a beautifully produced book. The paper, the fonts, the illustrations by Gillian Tyler are a pure delight and the shape and size are just right for putting into a handbag....even one much smaller than  the one that accompanied Mary Poppins.

Thank you, Adele,  for this,  which is the last review for 2014.
Like Awfully Big Blog Adventure, ABR is taking a short break over the Christmas holidays.  Many thanks to all our Reviewers for their thoughts and posts during the year - you've chosen some brilliant titles!
Awfully Big Review will be back at the start of January.
Meanwhile, wishing you all the best for the season - and much happy reading in 2015.
Penny Dolan.



Pippa Goodhart said...

Hmm. Would it be VERY wicked to buy oneself a present, do you think? This is so very tempting. Thank you, Adele, for giving us a real flavour of what lies within, at the same time as a feel for the physical book itself.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thank you for posting, Adele. I am a big fan of Travers and have several vintage editions of her books. This will be a welcome edition to my collection. Can't wait to start reading.

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