Thursday, July 05, 2007

Holes by Louis Sachar

Well at last I am ready to blog. I have been putting this off as it was becoming like and English essay. Anyway here goes. It is not an in depth analysis but if I don't post what I've got so far I never will!

Although this is obviously a children’s book I think it has appeal to all ages. I first heard of it when the BBC did a list of the top 100 most loved books as voted for by the public. It had all the usual suspects – Austen, Brontes etc. As well as some, like the Da Vinci Code, which will probably prove more passing popularity? This however was the only book I had never heard of. I decided I needed to see why so many had voted for it.
I suppose a lot of its popularity is down to the fact it is about an underdog becoming triumphant and a hero. However I think there are a lot of layers to the story which makes it stand out. It is written like a folk story. Sachar simply expects you to believe in ancient curses and bad luck. So it is like going to the opera where you have to suspend disbelief. That done you enter into Stanley’s world and can empathize with him more fully. Like many good folk stories it has horrible baddies, mythical beasts (the lizards) a lost civilization and magical food (the onions). Like a lot of children’s literature, such as Secret Garden, the Narnia books and of course Harry Potter, Stanley ditches his parents and all the trammels of his previous life which have been holding him back. This allows him to start from scratch and it means that everything is as new to him as it is to us. So we see this whole new rather alarming world through his eyes. On this new stage Stanley manages to make friends for the first time in his life and actually have some respect in his new community.
This is a book that I know is taught in schools so I looked on the Web for crib notes. And apparently the main themes in it are the benefits of friendship, fate reuniting people and the importance of history in every day life. There are also adult themes like racism. I think the power of fate could be an annoying theme (Ok, Helen – let’s not start the Thomas Hardy thing up again!) however the way it is handled just emphasises the folk story feel. So it becomes like Greek legends or even the Bible. However fate also means that Stanley and Zero meet again and make right ancient wrongs. I liked the way the history was introduced and made relevant to the current story being told. I suppose it could be argued that the coincidences were a bit hard to believe but this has not held back a lot of great literature – Oliver Twist for example.
Basically, sweeping themes or not I enjoyed this book because I rooted for Stanley and Zero and was glad that it ended happily. I think it was like a Shawshank Redemption for children and as that is in my top ten films ever what further compliment can I give it?


Helen said...

I agree with everything you said. One of the charms of the book - which I hadn't read before though it was on the list - is the style. it is very simple and matter of fact, nothing in the least pretentious, and yet within a simple framework with simple language it tells a complex story with a great deal of subtlety. The folk elements of the pig and the curse combine with the modern elements of the bullying and the punishment very well because the language is so economical. The juxtaposition of the historical elements and the modern day elements also are very smoothly done and dovetail neatly to create a much more complex book than it at first seems you are going to get. The character of Stanley is wonderful and you can't help but be moved at his brave letter home, and cheer at the end when he and Zero defeat the baddies and get the treasure. It was a good choice and I really enjoyed it.

Possible next books - I need to give that some thought.

Mr K said...

I really enjoyed it. Not having any idea of what to expect, the more fantastical elements of the plot took me by surprise somewhat, but once you accept them it becomes very enjoyable, as you begin to understand the folk tale logic of the plot, with some harsh realities of modern life blended in.

Don't know about the next book... hmmmm.

Hilarious Catastrophes said...

A little late I know but I've ordered this book online so I can read it too. A little off the point I know but in the second year of my degree we studied a module called "Cultures of Childhood" and we read various 'cross over' novels as they were called... which means coming-of-age I guess. There was one I would recommend called Skellig, by David Almond. There are some amazing novels for young readers. I also think Berlie Doherty is an author worth looking into... I went to see her read parts of her novel 'Deep Secret' which is inspired by a real Derbyshire village which was flooded to create a reservoir, and the impact it has on the people who used to belong there.

Helen said...

I agree with Alice that lots of very strong books are kids books and well worth reading by any age. Flour babies by Anne Fine springs to mind, as well as Jacqueline Wilson and Malorie Blackman.