The white twilight

You'll be unsurprised to learn that I've always loved reading. A recent trip to South Wales showing partner, who'd never been there before, my youthful haunts included a drive past my old infants school (loathed it!) and an unassuming corner shop. Not any corner shop though, as a small child it used to be a newsagent and was where Bookpuppy bought a book a week - Ladybird's learning to read "Peter and Jane" series initially, and after that any book or comic that I could get my hands on. The shop has changed many times since, and has seen better days, but I feel a warm glow inside whenever I think of it.

The loathed school. In my memory it was every bit as bad as it looked!
Move on a few years to school. Not surprisingly I adored English lessons. The only thing I disliked about them was the obligatory forced novel reading. Part of my problem with it was that I hate to be forced to read anything (it doesn't half spoil the fun). Then there's the fact that you're stuck on a book that you would normally have finished in a few days for months. So do you read it in one great delicious gulp, and then become increasingly bored with it forced to revisit week after week after week? Or do you just read the chunk that you've been assigned for that week, and completely lose the plot? (I would certainly mentally lose the plot, as I find dragging any book out like this to be an excruciating process).

The books we read in secondary school were so variable too. Bran the Bronze-smith - a tale of a bronze age man and his coracle, it was every bit as bad as it sounded, and I don't think I ever got to the end of it, We'll meet in England and The diary of Anne Frank, two of the few English lesson books that I loved. Then there was John Wyndham's Day of the triffids and The chrysalids; both of which I hated till I re-read them many years later. Joan Lingard's Across the barricades (along with Bran, I never finished it), Alan Garner's Owl Service - I liked it at the time, but had a mixed response when reading it more recently. And then there were the "grown-up" books - Great Expectations (unreservedly loved it), Hard Times (was very thankful that I'd already read A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities, as I think this would have been a very odd introduction to Dickens). And then there was Pride and Prejudice taught by a brilliant English teacher, who made me love everything we read with him (thank you Mr. Simmonds!).

Recently I'd been thinking about the books I'd read at school. I could distinctly remember reading a novel in the first year of secondary school which I thought was set in Copenhagen and involved an astronomer and two children. Other than that I had no recollection of anything further. A couple of searches via Google failed to find it, and then I remembered my old school group on Facebook, a quick post there and a savvy group member dug out her old exercise books for me, and found the title - The White Twilight by Madeleine Polland.

Another quick search online, and a copy was en route to me from The Old Cheese Factory in Lampeter (surely one of the world's nicest addresses). It was a decent copy too - hardback with its original dust jacket - pretty rare for a relatively cheap book from the 1960's.

The book however didn't quite live up to my expectations. Set in Denmark in late Tudor Times (I suspect the Copenhagen connection was a mix-up in my mind with the astronomers' tower mentioned in The Pony in the luggage), Hanne moves from Antwerp to Kronborg (Hamlet's Elsinore) to live with her father, who is extending the castle. While there she meets Carl Adam, the son of the most important member of the Court, and quickly realises that something is amiss. The white twilight is an odd book, a strange mish-mash of history, piracy, astronomy, and pre-teenage angst. It's not a bad adventure story, but doesn't quite deliver. It's an enjoyable enough tale, but must have been fairly excruciating reading as a set-work, even reading it over a few days I found it incredibly slow-paced.

Having said which there are some really lovely moments. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the ship, the White Twilight, and the scenes at sea were very dramatic. You're left feeling though that this book could have been so much more than it was.


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