Tuesday, March 22, 2011
World's Greatest Author Turns 75!
She was going to be kissed. On one side of a kiss ws childhood, sunshine, innocence, toys and, on the other, people embracing, darkness, passion and the admittance of a person who, no matter how loved, must always have the quality of otherness, not only to her confidence but somehow inside her sealing skin. ~ The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance - Margaret Mahy
I was eleven years old when I found my favourite book. Not everyone is as lucky to find this at such an early age, but when you do it is the most amazing experience: the type that makes you realize you've been changed forever. Margaret Mahy, is a celebrated writer from New Zealand, who is not well enough known in other countries which is a fact that saddens my heart. She wrote my favourite book and of course became my favourite author in the process.
I don't know what made me grasp a copy of The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance at the old library with no air conditioning all those years ago, but I think of this moment as one of the high points of my reading life. Do not let the pleasant looking woman in the photograph above spark off misconceptions in your minds. Mahy writes charged, dark, beautiful, erotic prose. I remember reading her descriptions of complex emotions and thinking, "That's exactly how I feel? How does she know that?" Her turns of phrase fill me with admiration and hopeless envy. I've read books and thought I could do better. It's humbling, awe-inspiring and...sad to read a book and think that there's no way you could achieve this level of skill and talent.
The Changeover delivered everything its title promised. It features my favourite hero, a troubled, sexy yet vulnerable young man who happens to be a witch. The heroine is sharp, very, very real and difficult to dislike, and she holds her own in a terrifying situation with courage. The adventure they encounter together is chilling. No typical horror movie set up can be found here. The story literally goes deeply into the psyche and into fairy tales with vivid, unusual images which are hard to skim over. Yet it's all firmly grounded in reality so things like tomato sandwiches, telephones and oil drums in a construction site can remind us that we are in a real world where extraordinary things are happening. Mahy does an excellent and realistic portrayal of family life in this book as well, and if you go on to read her other ones, you'll see that that's one of her hallmarks. She's often praised for it with good reason.
I have such a strong, all abiding love for The Changeover that it is not surprising that I don't love her other books as much. By this of course, I do not mean that they are not excellent. It's just that I expect every book to be like this one, and this is unfair, and my problem not hers. Her other books boast of the same jealousy-inducing prose. Family relationships are explored and presented in ways that astonish you because it feels so familar (particularly in The Tricksters). Supernatural occurrences are unique, surprising and astonishing, and her romance is delicious and engrossing (like in her Catalogue of the Universe).
I've never read Mahy's children's books, but I should probably take a look at them next shouldn't I? They've been described as delightful, and they must be quirky with names like The Chewing Gum Rescue and the Man Who's Mother Was A Pirate. No wonder she was given the Hans Christian Anderson award in recognition for her "lasting contribution to children's literature".
Mahy herself seems to be a kindred spirit. Years ago, I decided I must write to her, and I sent a letter to her publisher with the vague hope that she would receive it though not expecting a response. What an amazing and wonderful delightful experience it was to get a reply! It was truly one of the greatest letters I've ever received, filled with Mahy's charm and originality. I treasure it. Her interviews seem to reflect that. She's said of her readers, "I hope they have the same sort of relationship [with her books] that I had with the ones I read as a child." I don't think that she needs to fear that in my case. She seems to reflect my own feelings about her books as well. She's stated, "I still read them, and they sort of become part of your life." See? A kindred spirit indeed.
No wonder I can't wait to see what she's writing next. Apparently she's "edging" her way to the end of another book. Since I'm "edging" in my own writing, I can understand this, and after years of so much excellent work I won't press her. She's been doing this for 75 years, and I think she's proved her method is flawless.
What's your favourite book/author? What book do you just want to share with the world? Have you ever written to someone you admire and received an answer? Tell me.