However, all that time away from blogging has given me one thing: time to read, which means I've been able to reach for books that will cheer me up, make me smile, lift my sunken spirit. Instead, I've been reading Morris Gleitzman. And a lot of it.
Morris Gleitzman is like my Star Wars. Instead of "You've never seen Star Wars?" I get "You've never read a Morris Gleitzman?" (Actually, I get both - I've also never seen Star Wars. Hey. Stop judging. It looks like someone strung some tin cans together, gave a guy a voice distorter and hey presto: R2-D2.)
So a few weeks ago, I bought my first Gleitzman. I then bought my second, third, fourth and fifth. (I am now the person walking around saying "You've never read a Morris Gleitzman?" to total strangers.) The three I started with were Once, Then and Now. I could say that they're all about a boy called Felix and his experiences during WWII, but that sounds dull and dusty, and it's not really what they're about at all.
What Gleitzman, like the very best writers, does, is make the reader part of the story. Considering that these books are all written in first person from the perspectives of young children, that's quite something. The thing that is so brilliant here is that it isn't the acts of WWII that are shocking - I am, quite disturbingly, used to reading about, or watching, Nazis taking control and other people suffering. What is so brilliant in these books and what makes them different, though, is the window through which you experience this. Gleitzman sticks so fervently to his main character Felix's innocent and trusting point of view, that you can't help but live the story with him.
Once, for example, when a group of men in armbands arrive at the orphange Felix has been hidden in and start burning books, Felix says, "I get it. Mother Minka was complaining to us library monitors only last week that the library was very messy and needed a tidy-up. She must have got sick of waiting for us to do it and called in professional librarians in professional librarian armbands."
For Felix, everything is a story. It takes him some time to come to grips with what is going on around him. He doesn't understand who the Nazis are or what they are doing or why, but he tries to justify and explain everything he sees. Why are those people naked? They must be hot. Why are those people dead? They must have annoyed the librarians.
In the sequel, Then, Felix is on the run with his friend, Zelda. They are trying to find new parents, and are eventually taken in. I can't tell you anything more than that about the plot, because it will give too much away! But I can say that it runs along the same lines as Once - Felix is growing up, but that doesn't mean that making sense of the mad world he finds himself part of is any easier.
Now is rather different. Felix is grown up, and his grand-daughter Zelda is staying with him. Zelda has her own problems - bullies, accidentally setting fire to things and giving her grandfather birthday presents that seem to upset him. Zelda doesn't understand a lot of things, but she does come to understand that there are reasons why her grandfather behaves the way he does, even if she doesn't fully understand the reasons themselves.
Once, Now and Then share many things in common. They are all tales of friendship and family. They are all stories about stories, and what happens when stories aren't enough. They are all heartbreaking and haunting.
I recommend them all. And a healthy supply of tissues.