Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bob, Son of Battle - a book review

First published in 1898.  100+ years later this amazing book has been resurrected, refurbished and ready for a whole new generation of readers to experience the beauty of a true classic novel.  You don't want to miss this book for sure.  If I could give it ten stars I would.

The value of "man's /woman's best friend".....

Proudly presenting today's featured book:

Title:  Bob, Son of Battle
Author:  Alfred Ollivant
New edition:  Lydia Davis

Let's take a peek inside shall we?

About the book: 

This amazing story is one not to be missed.  First published in 1898 it went on to become a classic in both the UK and the US.  It is a story of good and evil and how good prevails.  Two sheepdogs, totally different in looks, temperament, and purpose, vie for the Shepherd's trophy admids an ongoing feud from their owners where jealousy, hatred and covetous reign.  

The storyteller extraordinare weaves a love-story, a heart-breaking and tragic relational story between a father and son, and a mysterious sub-plot to uncover the identity of the Black Killer who roams around at night viciously killing off the local sheep. The magnificent twists and turns will have you up late at night trying to figure out who the culprit is and why he is so elusive and cannot be apprehended.  You are kept in suspense right up until the end as Ollivant shows his brilliance as a master storyteller over and over again throughout, luring you on deeper into the plot to find out the answers you are seeking.

Thanks to Lydia Davis and the New York Review Children's Collection for re-introducing this book into the public domain once again for future generations to enjoy.  I myself had not read the book as child (or adult) so I was very fortunate to have had a chance to read one of the best books that I have read in a long, long time.  I highly recommend it.  

About the author:

Davis’s desire to modernize  Bob, Son of Battle (titled Owd Bob in the U.K. edition) sprang from her memories of first reading the book as a child. “The story is so convincingly told that you simply forget that it isn’t real, and even if you tell yourself it did not really happen, you believe the story, enter fully into it, and are moved by it,” she said. “I found that this continued to be true even as I was working on it. I found the ‘suspension of disbelief’ immensely effective.”
The author was concerned that Bob, Son of Battle, which was praised by Life magazine as “probably the greatest dog story ever written,” was “disappearing from reading lists and from conversations about children’s books, animal stories, and dog stories.” Realizing that the novel’s prevalence of Cumbrian and Scottish dialect made it difficult for contemporary children to read, she decided to write a new version.
“I did not want to see the book vanish altogether,” she said, “So I conceived the idea of doing a sort of translation into more standard and more contemporary English, while still retaining as much as I could of the local character of the original and the time when it was written.” Retaining the look of Ollivant’s version, Davis’s new edition features the original art by Marguerite Kirmse, an illustrator who was best known for drawings of dogs, including those in Eric Knight’s 1938 classic, Lassie, Come-Home.

Tackling the Task
Though Davis initially intended to limit the changes she made to Bob, Son of Battle to reworking the dialect, she soon realized that other features of Ollivant’s story also impeded its accessibility to today’s young readers. “When I saw that some of the structures and word choices of the narration were also difficult, I decided to make them a little easier,” she explained. “It was hard to know just how far to go with that, of course. And I’m also aware that the way we learn new words is by encountering unfamiliar words in a context in which we can figure them out for ourselves – so there were many difficult words that I didn’t change.”
Acknowledging that her experience translating the works of others likely fueled her interest in reworking Bob, Son of Battle, Davis added that that didn’t necessarily facilitate the project. “I had already ‘translated’ a chapter of a novel by Laurence Sterne into contemporary English, as an experiment,” she said. “Strangely, it is in some ways harder to translate from English into English than from a foreign language.
Though Ollivant did not write Bob, Son of Battle for young readers, it became known as a children’s book, Davis explained, mainly because it featured dogs and several young protagonists. The fact that she was creating a new version of a novel that has made its mark in the children’s market as well as the adult market presented Davis with a new challenge.
“It was certainly a different experience for me to work with young people in mind, because I did not know exactly how easy to make the text, and had to decide whether I was writing it for a 10-year-old or a 14-year-old, or maybe even an adult who would have been discouraged by the dialect and difficult syntax of some of the narration in the original version.”
Though Edwin Frank, editorial director of the Children’s Collection, was not familiar with Ollivant’s novel when Davis’s agent, Denise Shannon, told him that Davis had a yen to translate it into modern English, he was immediately interested in the project. “I am always interested when someone says they passionately loved a book as a child, as Lydia did in this case, and I was intrigued by the whole concept of such a great writer taking on something very different from what she’s known for, though of course Lydia is a great translator. This is a very different kind of book than we’ve done in this series, and we’re very pleased with it.”

Book Review Rating:  9 (Close to perfection!)

Read on and read always!  Own your day.

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