Amongst my grandfather’s books was a novel Bealby which I read when still very young. A boy is sent to work in a big country house as a lowly servant. He discovers a secret passage but gets lost. His scratching and fumbling irritate a house guest, the Lord Chancellor. I did not have a clue who or what was a Lord Chancellor but it sounded grand. The boy found his way outside where he was befriended by three young women who were having a gypsy caravan holiday. Shades of Toad of Wind in the Willows fame. After a series of adventures and misadventures the boy was returned to the house to find gaping holes in it as workmen frantically searched for the missing child.
The author was H.G.Wells. Even though I did not catch much of the material the pace and zest of the story carried me along. At Akaroa District High I read The Time Machine in the school library. Learning I had enjoyed it Mr Arnold lent me his copies of The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Incredible science made credible. He also lent me the Outline of History which I am sure gave me a sense of the sweep of history. While I like particular incidents I like books that present the big picture.
Over the years I’ve read many of Wells’ social realism novels. He is excellent at comic relief and his narrative never fails to engage me. I was surprised to find The History of Mr Polly as one of the set books for the fifth form at Thames High School. It did not seem to me to be a good book to engage the attention of Kiwi teenagers – too English. It is still a book I get pleasure from.
I mentioned Bealby to our good friend Roger. He had two copies so he kindly gave me one. I read it with greater appreciation, especially the comedy, than I had as a lad. I was pleased to welcome it back to my shelves. Roger turned 70 the other day. A friend had arranged for him a limited edition of The Food of the Gods, one of Wells’ lesser known scientific romances, for which Roger had contributed a foreword. Roger gave me a copy. I’m half-way through it.
Three things shine through – again narrative strength. One wants to know what is going to happen. Then there is unexpected comedy – even the hunting of the giant rats has its humour. Thirdly, his brief descriptions reveal his love for the Kent countryside. It reminded me of Orwell’s novel set in the same county. It’s a good gift, Roger.