14 May 2006

Novels for younger readers

We grew up in a manner of speaking with Enid Blyton, Satyajit Ray’s Goopy and Bagha, Akbar and Birbal stories, fables and folk tales from round the world, PG Wodehouse, the Panchatantra, DC comics, and Illustrated Classics. These days, under the pretence of checking our reading habits, we feel compelled sometimes to revisit our youth. Salinger and the YA crowd never did it for us as we aged. Neither did formula fiction but then again most of our youth was spent in high company (Mann, Flaubert, Tolstoi, et alia) but we relent and regress at times even now. What is it about writers as disparate as Alison Pick, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Irvine Welch, Banana Yoshimoto or Murakami (before he started parodying his whimsy into a formula) that can evoke the struggles or sweetness of young adulthood so well? Is it the selfless innocence blighted by the discovery of the compromised and unjust adult world, by betrayed ideals, by emotions rent for the first time, by violence, or by the loss of friendships? Or is just about ruing lost opportunities and the blighting of promise (there's a whole school of English juvenilia and nostalgic school memoirs of which Cyril Connolly is an exemplar) that appeal to us? Even cynical old writers try to be open to being moved by bittersweet experiences of lost innocence as we totter on towards the inevitable.

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