Monday, June 13, 2016
Eight books featuring antiques
What's the great charm of antiques, especially when it can be easy to laugh at them? I see the comic aspect when we watch programs like The Antique Roadshow and American Pickers. Who hasn't grinned at the image of some hoarder hauling in his old junk which only appears good for the bin? Rusty tin cans, yellowing newspaper, weird old toys, ugly, garish hair accessories. Taken to the extreme, their houses can be havens for rats, mice and cockroaches. Surely some of the more physical aspects of the past are well left behind us? At least when living things pass their use-by date, they are buried.
Yet we do keep collecting them. Of course, antiques can be useful for helping us figure out how things used to be. Historians may look at some old gadget and tell us, 'I reckon they flicked this lever, pushed this knob, twisted this handle, and there you have it.' It makes handy research fodder for many people, including historical novelists. At some time, we've all paid good money to get into pioneer museums, so we can see things run just as they had in the past.
But I think the biggest fascination we have with antiques is all about how they kindle the imagination. We pick them up, turn them over in our hands, run our fingers across their surface and wonder about all the long-gone people who would have done that before us, maybe even centuries ago. If these objects could talk, what we hear could be amazing. This trapped story element may be what draws me from time to time to browse in antique shops. And also why antiques tend to pop up in stories.
Here's some good ones I can think of.
1) The Magic Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
It's one for kids. I'll put it first because it's surely one of the first I read, aged 6 or 7. Mollie and Peter wander into a strange antique shop when they're looking for a birthday present for their mother. The proprietor is a weird chap who threatens them, and they are rescued by the friendly, flying chair. It is itself an antique. They have many adventures when it proves to be willing to take them wherever they want to go.
2) The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay
Lucy Alling works with antiques, including old books. Some of her business dealings aren't quite on the level, but she keeps this from her boss, Sid. It's inevitable that some day her dishonest ways will catch up with her. My review is here.
3) At Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings
Miranda is third generation in a successful family dynasty of antique auctioneers. One day, her ailing grandfather accidentally sells a treasure its owner never intended to part with. This leads them on a merry dance into the sticks, trying to track it down. My review is here.
4) Best Forgotten by Paula Vince
I get a buzz when my own books fit into these lists. Courtney, the hero, has amnesia. His mother's fiance, Roger, turns out to be a fanatical antique dealer. I drew from my many forays into antique shops when I planned Roger's wonderful emporium. Without wanting to give anything away, his antiques turn out to have a pivotal role in the story of how Courtney lost his memory. I wrote an author's review here. This book won the CALEB Award for fiction in 2011.
5) The Glass Painter's Daughter by Rachel Hore
The antique stained glass window is discovered after being concealed for years. Fran, the glass-painter's daughter, and her father's apprentice, Zac, set out to restore it. The story delves into the long-lost history of its origin, involving another family who have also been forgotten about for years. A story of fascinating layers of the past. My review is here.
6) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
The significance of antiques is introduced in this volume, and concludes in The Deathly Hallows. Harry discovers that handsome young Tom Riddle, who later became the evil Lord Voldemort, had a specific interest in tracking down antiques. He was after relics and treasures owned by each of Hogwarts' founders when they were still alive. And Harry, with the help of Ron and Hermione, must track each of them down to undo the terrible things Voldemort did with them. (Surely at this stage it wouldn't be a plot spoiler if I mentioned the word 'horcruxes')
7) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
This one is a fantastic Victorian novel which I read in my early twenties. Rachel's cousin, Franklin Blake, brings home a ridiculously valuable rare gem from the east for her birthday. It's rumoured to have dark, supernatural powers. When the antique jewel disappears, is the resulting upheaval simply the result of circumstances, or partly to do with the moonstone itself? I loved the eerie atmosphere this novel evokes.
8) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Who could possibly forget the pathetic image of Miss Havisham, sitting in her shabby drawing room, surrounded by her treasures from the day her world fell apart? Her mouldy old wedding cake and cobwebby wedding dress which falls off her frame have simply become antiques as she's become an antique herself.
If this list sets you off on a fun quest to read books with antiques, that'll be great. Let me know if you can think of any others I may like.