I am rather aware that there haven’t been many book reviews on Savidge Reads for a little while and that’s because I am reading slower and thinking more about what I am reading slower. However today you are in for a treat of not one but two reviews of some of the Mini Modern Classics that the publishers Penguin are releasing to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first is ‘Wunderkind’ by Carson McCullers, an author I have always wanted to read and never quite gotten around to until now.
I was expecting before I opened the cover that ‘Wunderkind’ would a small novella that Carson McCullers had written at some point and hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. In fact it’s a collection of four short stories, which make up just over sixty pages, taken from a collection of hers called ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works’ originally published in 1951. It’s always hard to write a review of a short story collection, especially one so short, and not give anything away. I will however try and give it a go. Though I don’t think I understood ‘The Jockey’ and anything it was trying to say in its ten pages and so will steer clear of that one.
The first story in the collection, and the title story, ‘Wunderkind’ was actually Carson McCullers first piece of work ever to be published which she wrote aged 19 and makes a lot of sense. It’s the tale of a specific music lesson between Frances who after being proclaimed a prodigy isn’t becoming one. The tale is basically a wrought set of intense emotions and desires which overcome her during this one session. The fact Carson herself was not far from the narrators age and could possibly well remember these feeling gives what in some ways is a tale we have all seen before have a certain edge, its believable, it rings true and you are left feeling as puzzled as the narrator at the end.
‘A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud’ is another intense emotional tale but is the polar opposite of ‘Wunderkind’. In a small town a man tells of his wife of “one year, nine months, three days, and two nights” and how her leaving him and his obsession with finding her wherever she might be has taught him to love and what loving really means. This sounds rather abstract but is done in rather a haunting way, both sad and hopeful through the way McCullers leaves the reader at the end.
My favourite of the four was ‘Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland’. This to me hard a certain Sparkness to it which I think was why it appeal so much. It’s an initially light hearted tale of a new teacher at Ryder College in New York who seems to be perfect, however as the tale goes on little signs that there may be more to Madame Zilensky than meets the eye creeps into the reader. That’s all I can say on it without giving anything away and therefore spoiling the read.
I guess the best thing is to end with reviewing the collection as a whole. It’s definitely a mixed bag, I wasn’t fussed about ‘The Jockey’ yet despite some of them feeling a little unfinished I think all the others will stay with me for quite some time. This collection excels in doing what I think Penguin are aiming for in a small £3 pocket sized book… it has introduced me to an new author and left me wanting to read more of her work, which is of course published by Penguin. There is a certain sadness in McCullers work that doesn’t depress but haunts and I have found that strangely enticing. I must read more. Who new a 61 page pocket book could provide so much food for thought?