Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Books 43 & 44 of 2015: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell & Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

This week's books were both read for the Reading Challenge last year. Week 23 was a book more than 100 years old and Week 24 was a book chosen for the cover.

First up is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell.

This was originally published back in 1914 so it just qualified as a book over 100 years ago. I did debate reading a couple of other older books that I had on my Kindle but I've had this on my bookshelf for absolutely years without ever getting around to reading it. This seemed like my opportunity. It tells the story of a group of men who work as painters and decorators, they are joined one day by Owen, a man who desires a more just society. He encourages his fellow workers to rise up against the capitalist system for which they work.

I did find this an interesting read, but I wasn't really in the mood for it at the time. It's a pretty hefty read and I was trying to get through it in a short period of time for the reading challenge. I think I would've enjoyed it more if I'd had more time to read it.

I couldn't help but be reminded of Dickens as I was reading it, particularly in the names for some of the characters and businesses. In a way, Tressell was doing the same thing that Dickens was doing with many of his books; enlightening his readers to the plights of other people.

I do think that the messages of this book are still quite relevant today, especially considering the fact that the gap between rich and poor continues to increase today. All the same, the book was really heavy-handed in its messages and I couldn't help but wish that it was an awful lot shorter as I was reading it. I suspect I'll revisit again in the future, perhaps when I'm more in the mood for it.

As soon as I finished The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists I went on for a book which was about as far removed from it as possible. Earlier in the year I had picked up Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty, in a charity shop purely because of the cover, so it seemed like a good choice for the reading challenge; even though I had far more pretty book cover that I was drawn to. There was just something about the ransom note style of the cover which drew my eye to it.

The book follows Bindy Mackenzie, an Australian High School student, who is perfectly aware of how smart and kind she is. Unfortunately no one else seems to share this view of her. She documents her life at school through emails, essays and transcripts of a group learning project at school. Along the way she not only makes some discoveries about herself and her classmates; she also learns that someone is out to kill her!

For some reason, in the UK this book was published under the title of Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, but elsewhere it seems to have been published as The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. Perhaps had my copy had that title on the front cover, the switch in plot direction wouldn't have been such a surprise to me.

It's clearly written for teen girls, and as a teen girl it probably would've been right up my street. It kind of reminded me of The Princess Diaries books in a way (and I LOVED those books as a teen). There were definitely similarities in the way that they were written.

At the start of the book, I couldn't help but find Bindy rather annoying. She was so full of her own self-importance and completely oblivious to the feelings of her classmates. Then again, I suspect that I was a similar sort of teenager myself, so perhaps the irritation was more than a little directed at myself. As the book went on, I couldn't help but find her growing on me and after a while I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. She was a product of her environment and she didn't know how to behave differently.

I did like that it was set in Australia. I started out thinking I was reading a story set in America so I had to do a sort of mental adjustment to the different location. I don't often read books set in Australia so it made for a nice change.

As I said above, I was not expecting the plot to suddenly go off into an attempt to murder a teenage girl, so it caught me completely off guard. It probably really would've appealed to me as a teenager though so I can imagine this being popular with the teen set.


  1. Ragged...is one of my favourite books, totally in tune with my politics. You're absolutely right; nothing has changed.

    1. I was fairly certain I'd seen you mention it, Mark. :-)

    2. I'm nothing if not reassuringly predictable! I was very nearly in a production of it last year, but had to pull out due to other commitments


Let me know what you think. :-)