Sunday, 6 July 2008

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

"Dandelion Wine"
by Ray Bradbury
Format: Paperback 256 Pages
Publisher: Bantam Books

How do you categorise a novel like Dandelion Wine, its not SF (but it has a time machine, of sorts), its not horror (but it has a serial killer), its not even fantasy (although it has a witch or two). You feel that if Ray Bradbury had stuck to one genre he would be declared a genius but as many of his books are simply unclassifiable he is often (wrongly) overlooked, he truly is a master of all trades and jack of none.

Dandelion Wine is a mish mash of ideas based on a semi-autobiographical account of the long hot summer of 1928. Whilst the book is based in small town America, the themes of long lazy summer days, childhood adventure and growing up are universal, Bradbury succeeds by taking these familiar themes, twisting and bending them into these bizarre creations which we can relate to on a basic level but which are expanded into many different levels.

Each summer Douglas Spaulding and his family collect Dandelions to make Dandelion Wine, a bottle for each day so see them through the hard winter and remind them of the glories of summer. Tied up with these bottles are memories of events that happened to Douglas and the other occupants of Greentown, Illinois.

The book therefore is composed like a series of short stories linked by the summer and the creation of the wine, some contain happy memories some contain sad. Indeed death and the ageing process are recurring themes throughout the book and we see Douglas becoming aware of his own mortality as the summer moves on. Hang on though, that all sounds totally depressing and frankly quite boring, well its absolutely not. The book is life affirming, joyous and at times completely gripping, if you are prepared to suspend reality and live the characters lives.

As I mentioned earlier, the stories are wide ranging and we do get a bit of everything but in a good way. Bradburys' dialogue writing is fantastic and very reminiscent of Stephen King. They both seem able to create a character simply by letting them speak in a natural and engaging way, both easy to read and yet driving the story perfectly. Another piece reminiscent of King is perhaps one of the best pieces of suspense writing anywhere. I defy anybody to read pages 158-176 without gripping ever so slightly tighter to the pages of the book.

The book isn't for everyone, some may find it mawkish, others may think it too clever, but for me Dandelion Wine stands as one of the great works of 20th Century fiction, up there with To Kill A Mockingbird or The Catcher in The Rye and in my opinion cruelly overlooked by comparison.

I believe Mr Bradbury has a new collection of stories based, once again, in Greentown due for publication in the autumn. I for one can't wait and will raise a toast of Dandelion Wine to his good health, long may the memories keep coming.

Rating 5 out of 5

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