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Susan’s Bookshelves: Grinny by Nicholas Fisk

We used to teach Nicholas Fisk’s 1974 novel, Grinny a lot when I first went to teach in Kent in the late 1970s. It went down well with reluctant (ish) readers because it is very short – really a novella – and there’s plenty to talk about. Coming back to it now, there still is.

Fisk lived from 1923 to 2016 and speculative fiction for young adult readers was his thing. Great Aunt Emma arrives on the doorstep and says reassuringly “You remember me” so Mr and Mrs Carpenter welcome her in but the children Tim and Beth quickly realise there’s something odd about this sister their Granny never mentioned. She doesn’t understand everyday idioms and metaphor (good talking point in an English class), Neither does she feel pain or smell – of anything.  She grins fixedly too – hence the nickname the children give her. She turns out to be a spy for a planned alien invasion. Of course the children see her off – they’re a feisty pair, especially Meg. And their friend Mac is good value too.

It still reads well but it’s a reminder of how much has changed in 47 years. The Carpenter children speak in articulate sentences and are very knowledgeable about all sorts of things because they seem to be getting what used to be called “a good education” rather than years of exam cramming.  Mr and Mrs Carpenter are formally addressed (remember those days?) and this is a traditional household in which Mrs C shoes them all out of the door in the mornings so that she can get on with the housework. It reminds me, faintly of The Tiger Who Came To Tea in that sense. Grinny, though, is a hideous threat, in a way that Judith Kerr’s tiger never is.

I didn’t know that Fisk – who writes himself into the narrative quite neatly – had written a sequel. You Remember Me, which is slightly longer was published in 1984. The two titles now seem to be published as a single volume which is what I bought recently.

You Remember Me – the title is the hypnotic mantra which fogs people’s brains –  takes us forward four years. Tim Carpenter is now a cub reporter on the local paper (as Fisk himself once was) which makes you feel nostalgic for the days in which bright young people could climb career ladders quite successfully without spending three years in a university. Beth is now 12 and full of ideas and initiative. A National Front-like organisation is storming the country and a beautiful young woman named Lisa Treadgold is their figurehead. She, inevitably, is not what she seems. Yes, the aliens are having another bash and yes, they are seen off again – this time by Beth singlehandedly. She laments the lack of credit for saving the world to the very last page. All good fun.

 

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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