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Book Title: A Bargain for Frances|
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Reader ratings: 4.2
The author of the book: Russell Hoban
Date of issue: September 30th 1970
ISBN 13: 9780060223298
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 578 KB
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Again, as with the other books in this series, Russell (Riddley Walker, The Medusa Frequency) and Lillian (Tea and Jam for Frances) Hoban have built a clear, core narrative around an important life-lesson for their young readers, told through the simple charcoal-and pencil medium, but enhanced by a savvy use of two-colour printing to provide a comfortable, yet salient homeliness that both assures and excites. That the narrative is carried forward through the frozen actions of a family of badgers is a brilliant stroke on their part, and advances the "Frances" brand into a difficult direction for social development. This installment in the Frances franchise deals with the confidence trickster and how to deal with him, or in this case, Thelma, another girl who seems as much an innocent badger as Frances. But looks can be deceiving!
We have all had, at one time or another, had to deal with difficult and userous persons whose mendacity and opportunism leaves us out-of-water, bewildered by the changing dynamics of what was ostensibly a mutually-beneficial social engagement, but has somehow turned into a one-way relationship.
In this, the Hobans prepare the reader for the political intrigue, unfair dealing, and manipulation of our baser instincts by others for their own gain. But more importantly, it establishes ground rules for dealing with these difficult individuals using their own tools against them: greed and artifice.
The book dives directly into the action, with heavy foreshadowing. Frances' mother is reminding Frances that every time she plays with Thelma, she ends up the worse for the experience. A series of painful and nearly fatal incidents show the depth of Thelma's depravity, and yet, despite this fact, Frances' mother has the bravery and foresight to realize that it is at this stage in Frances' life that she must learn to fend for herself. She sends her daughter forth with the same pattern of courage and release that has echoed through the ages, a universal theme of risk for the greater good.
The Hobans lull us into a sense of false security as the girls make mud-pies and prepare their stuffed toys for an afternoon tea. But then, the tea service is brought forward and the conflict soon escalates as Thelma manipulates Frances into exposing and then giving away her dream tea set in exchange for Thelma's tawdry but concrete leftovers. We cringe at Frances' vulnerability at the outset of this exchange, where the dream is brought forth using minimal but poignant poetic language:
"I want a rea china tea set
with pictures on it in blue.
The tea set I want has trees
and birds and a Chinese house
and a fence and a boat
and people walking on a bridge.
I used to have
that kind of tea set.
But all I have now
is part of the teapot.
The rest of it is broken."
And who hasn't felt the loss and regret captured in these few lines? Like Frances, we try to rebuild in memory beauty lost in time from the thin fragments left to us by chance and fate. And here is a hint of the Hobans' mastery of their form. It is this very yearning for the past that could be again that Thelma so cruelly exploits in order to gain the self-same tea set that Frances has lost.
The story could end with the loss of Frances' savings in purchasing the awful, and ugly plastic tea set from Thelma, and Frances' discovery that the tea set of her dreams was well within her grasp. We could simply be outraged that Thelma would lie to Frances about the availability of such tea sets. We learn this from Frances' POV, when se sees Thelma buying the blue tea set with Frances' money.
But instead, Frances turns the tables on Thelma (I won't spoil the book by revealing exactly how) and, in a magnanimous gesture, asserts that friendship is more important than the complicated games that must needs result when there is a lack of trust.
Less subtle readers might object to the introduction of a new character, Gloria, into the story at the eleventh hour, but it's this very mechanism by which the fecundity of friendship and its ability to transcend the individual and the friend to an ever broadening circle of friends helps to hammer the theme home, but also to bridge this narrative to the next. We see Frances, Thelma, and Gloria participating in purchases and consumption together, as well as engaging in acts purely for their own pleasure.
And there, the Hobans leave it, as if a question unasked: What do you prefer? Fun and sharing with friends, or distrust, loss, and exploitation between deceitful, but equal, partners. Such an unasked question requires no answer, because the answer is in the mind of the reader.
Masterful handling of universal themes and problems by a pair of the most talented in the business. Five stars, if only because there can't be six.
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Read information about the authorRussell Conwell Hoban was an American expatriate writer. His works span many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mainstream fiction, magical realism, poetry, and children's books. He lived in London, England, from 1969 until his death. (Wikipedia)
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