Wednesday, August 25, 2010
THE CARDTURNER By Louis Sachar. London: Bloomsbury, 2010
This is the most recent young adult novel from Louis Sachar, author of a large number of books for children and teens, including the delightfully quirky Holes, which became a Disney movie. Like Holes, this one has fantasy elements – just a touch, but fantasy all the same. It’s also quirky, but those are about the only elements the books have in common.
Alton has a rich uncle, Lester Trapp. Grumpy as he is, Lester has to be sucked up to, because he is – well, rich, and Alton’s family is deep in debt.
When Lester goes blind, he needs someone to be his cardturner, to enable him to continue playing bridge, a game in which he is a genius. Alton doesn’t know anything about bridge, but as far as Lester is concerned, that is all the better – he won’t argue!
Taking on the job of cardturner, Alton learns, not only about bridge, a game as complex as chess, but the answers to some mysteries in his family history.
It’s a very readable and quirky tale, with humour and sadness mixed, although I have to say that I found the bridge references confusing, despite the author’s clever device to make it easier. Early in the novel, when he is just starting to get the hang of bridge, Alton says that when he was studying Moby Dick at school, he lost track of what was happening when there was detailed description of life aboard a ship. To make things easier on his readers, he says that every time there’s a complicated bridge description, he will put in a picture of a whale; if you want to, you can skip the detailed description and just read the summary at the end. That’s a good idea, but in the end, if you don’t understand the object of the game, the simplified bits are no easier to understand than the complicated ones.
I found myself skimming over much of the bridge description and just concentrating on the characters and story outline. Those were worth reading the book for. And it’s interesting, anyway, to learn just how complex this game is. Who would have thought it?
It’s touching to see the relationship develop between the boy and his great-uncle Trapp, the back-story in the novel and Alton’s own discovery of just what he can do.
Recommended for very good readers.