Tag Archives: Autobiographical

Anne Frank – Diary of a Young Girl

5 stars5/5

At almost twice the age Anne was when she write the last lines in her famous diary, I think back and try to remember back to my own inner-monologue as a teenager.

Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl Penguin 60th Anniversary Edition

Penguin, 2007, 60th Anniversary Edition, 368 pages - personal library

On one hand I wonder at her expressive writing and then remember that I as a young person I naturally had a certain freedom of expression and might have been as bold, although not as eloquent! I believe it is Anne’s candidness, which is both innocent and knowing that has made Anne’s diary appeal to millions of readers. As a young person you instantly relate, and as a ‘grown-up’ you suddenly remember what it was like to feel all those complicated emotions. Although it cannot be denied that Anne is self aware, there is an unguarded spirit that is not usually found in adult writing. I can see why some people have refused to believe it was real, because she writes so well, but then it is my view that people often do not give young people credit for the ability to question and for their depth of thinking. Perhaps those people have truly forgotten their youthful selves and how serious and important their concerns were to them.

I picked up my copy of The Diary of a Young Girl when I visited Holland last August. In my Religious Education classes at school I learned the contextual significance of Anne’s diary but I didn’t actually read it, and I have to admit that going to visit the Anne Frank Huis wasn’t top of my list of things to do. Then a friend at work warmly recommended I add it to my itinerary on my visit to Amsterdam and I’m glad to say that it was a truly excellent because of how thoughtfully the exhibition was put together. It also made me want to finally read the diary so I picked up a copy in the shop and when Savidge Reads chose it as one of his books to read before his 30th (his recent review is here) I bumped it up my TBR.

Bookcase - Hidden Stairway - Anne Frank

Amazing - the hidden stairway behind the bookcase - and rather appropriate for a book-blog don't you think?

Well by the 5 star rating and my effusive comments you must have guessed already that I found Anne’s diary to be a fantastic read. I was completely drawn into Anne’s world, shared her moments of speculation, boredom, anger, claustrophobia and fear, sheer delight at simple treats and her emotional ups and downs with her Mother (some seriously harsh words!), her much-admired Father, Peter, and the aggravating Mr Dussel and Mrs van Dann. At times Anne is petulant, irritating. At times she is grateful. Throughout she remains honest and her words sound out her feelings as clear as a bell. Curiously, I didn’t feel overly emotional while reading it, but when I read the afterword her story really hit home. I suppose it’s because by the end of the book I felt as if I had come to know Anne, warts and all, and then to read in black and white what I already knew – that she died in a concentration camp after all that time hiding away – I just felt such sadness. What a waste of a life, and how representative of the lives wasted in that war, through hatred and ignorance. Well I’m really getting on my soapbox now, but it is a story which compels you to consider that fact and it is a heavy warning.

The funny thing is that though we know that the story ends sadly and there are  bitter moments of expression – Anne’s ‘violent outbursts on paper’, but the diary is mostly joyful and optimistic – full of beautiful words and thoughts.

“I’m young and strong and living through a big adventure; I’m right in the middle of it and can’t spend all day complaining because it’s impossible to have any fun! I’m blessed with many things: happiness, a cheerful disposition and strength. Every day I feel myself maturing, I feel liberation drawing near, I feel the beauty of nature and  the goodness of the people around me. Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is. With all that, why should I despair?”

The Diary of a Young Girl is unmissable piece of History, and more than that it is a great piece of writing.

To sign off, a couple of photographs from my trip to the Netherlands last year which I never got around to posting at the time. [Photo credit goes to the OH as usual]. “Memories mean more to me than dresses” – Anne Frank.

Houses on the Canal, Amsterdam, Netherlands / Holland

Houses on the canal, Amsterdam.

Windmills - Kinderdijk, Netherlands.

Have you read Anne Frank’s diary or studied it at school?

Do you remember how you felt as a teenager (if you’re not any more!)?

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, by Barbara Comyns

3.5 stars3.5/5

It was Stuck in a Book’s Simon who introduced me properly to quirky Barbara Comyns when I joined in the readalong for The Vet’s Daughter (my 5/5 review of which can be found here).

Virago Modern Classics, 1983 edition, 224 pages - Christmas Gift.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is quite a different book, but with the same off-beat writing style and while the main character is named Sophia, it is also quite clearly autobiographical in nature.

The blurb on the book aptly sums up what could be described as the theme of the book – “marry in haste, repent at leisure”. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the story of a young woman Sophia, who at twenty-one marries an artist named Charles. They barely have a penny to rub together and much to the dismay of their family and their own, Sophia becomes pregnant almost immediately. The couple live a bohemian lifestyle in 1930’s London on a very limited income from Sophia’s odd-jobs. Charles is more concerned with painting than providing for his young family and while there are moments of happiness at the start of the novel, life becomes harder and harder for them.

Because the novel is written from Sophia’s perspective, we never really understand Charles that well. He seems feckless and at times downright cruel, but his actions seemed to be mainly due to immaturity more than anything else, which unfortunately at times results in quite tragic moments. In many ways though, Sophia seems quite accepting of Charles’ failings throughout most of the book and the overall impression is one of extreme naivety on the part of both Sophia and Charles.

What I enjoyed most about Our Spoons Came from Woolworths was the authors unique voice. Throughout the book, Sophia speaks to the reader in such a conversational tone, it is as if you are sitting having a cup of tea together! Her tone is matter of fact, and mostly lighthearted despite the fact that there are some pretty serious moments in which she surely must have felt devastated. It is probably because her descriptions at times seem quite childlike which makes the account so poignant. For example, Sophia describes how she is treated by the hospital staff when her first child is born:

“The nurse was so angry. She said I should set a good example and that I had disgusting habits. I just felt a great longing to die and escape but instead I walked behind the disgusted nurse, all doubled up with shame and pain.”

The beauty of Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the way that it captures the beautiful moments between the difficult times. One or two particular moments come to mind – like when the milkman accidentally delivers a pint of cream instead of milk “we ate everything simply smothered in cream…”, or when Sophia describes how she had brightened up their bare flat by painting all the furniture with a coat of sea green paint.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is an off-beat and bittersweet book. It’s an easy and enjoyable read while at the same time being really quite sad in parts. Like a bright splash of colour on a canvas, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, paints a vivid impression of 1930’s London through the eyes of a young woman going through turbulent times with beautiful brevity and style.

Do you like quirky books? If so what authors would you recommend?