Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Little White Bird by J. M. Barrie

Date finished: 7 January 2013

Rating: 5*

I found this book when my dad dragged our family to the Karoo on our way back from George, and we stayed in a beautiful yet somewhat creepy one-hundred-year-old house that I quickly fell in love with because of its library filled with first-edition copies of books I had never even heard of, and its humongous collection of sheet music for piano that had no doubt been in the family for over a hundred years. (They had first-edition, unedited collection of Schubert’s German Art Songs and I just about melted into a pool of goo when I found it… #musicnerdproblems.)

Anyway, this was one of those incredible first edition novels. To be perfectly honest, my obsession with J. M. Barrie and Peter Pan has been ongoing for about 90% of my lifetime, starting with a Peter Pan and Wendy abridged hardcover with hand-drawn illustrations that I was sent from my great aunt in England when I was six. I still have it, and still read it (do not judge me – that book is my whole childhood). It escalated when the Peter Pan film starring Jeremy Sumpter was released in 2003 (and I still watch it regularly with my friends when we feel sad.) It was only in April last year that I read J. M. Barrie’s original version of Peter Pan cover to cover, and I fell in love all over again.

As you can imagine, the moment I saw the name “J. M. Barrie” printed in gold lettering on a steadily fading blue canvas hardcover novel in the middle of the library, I pretty much stopped breathing. When I recovered, I grabbed the book and hurtled out into the English garden to find a spot amongst the fairies to immerse myself inside the magical world of J. M. Barrie’s imagination. Of course, I had momentarily forgotten that I was in the Karoo, and not Kensington Gardens, so when I spotted a bug about the size of my fist rather than a fairy, I retreated into the fancy-schmancy parlor and curled up on the window seat.

I only had two days to read it, but being the ultimate nerd that I am, I took that as a challenge. And I did finish it. And I loved it.

J. M. Barrie has got to be the craziest genius ever to have set foot on this planet. I love him. The Little White Bird was witty and insane, and honestly I’m still not completely sure what it was about, but it was incredible. J. M. Barrie’s writing was so weird and wonderful that I couldn’t possibly force myself to put the book down, and the added chapters in the middle of the novel about the becoming of Peter Pan had me in a total mess of emotions that I will never fully be able to explain. There’s something magical about discovering more about your childhood “hero” or favourite character when you’ve grown up. I also loved how unconventional and beautiful the characters were, and the storyline was bittersweet – although I cannot decide whether the ending made me want to overturn tables because of its incompleteness, or sob into an embroidered handkerchief because it was so touching.

To anybody who hasn’t read Peter Pan – the real, absolutely ridiculous version by J. M. Barrie rather than the picture books you read as a child – or The Little White Bird, I highly recommend both.

“Ah, Peter! we who have made the great mistake, how differently we should all act at the second chance. But Solomon was right – there is no second chance, not for most of us. When we reach the window, it is Lock-Out Time. The iron bars are up for life.”

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