I read two books in the last few day that I thought were worth mentioning here.
The first was Tuck Everlasting, an American classic written by Natalie Babbitt in 1975. It's quite a slim little book but extremely profound - how do these authors manage to load such slight texts with such laden meaning without overburdening them? So beautiful and elegantly sparse. The main theme is death and pretty much everything I wrote in my D post (written before reading the book) applies to this text. It is about a girl who discovers a family who have drunk from a stream of eternal life and are immortal. The novel explores whether or not this power is valuable or desirable. It's a book I've always been aware of but never got round to reading because I thought it might be twee or fey. It's not. It's quite understated though very sensory, and there's no jingle-jangling plinky music magicky bits - all the fantasy elements are written in a straightforward and seamless way. (How much do you bet that appears on the back of the book one day?)
The other was Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Gorgeous and spooky. Coraline discovers a door to nowhere in her apartment which ends up being to somewhere - a through the looking glass type landscape inhabited by her 'other mother and father' who want Coraline to live with them and be their daughter. Coraline's own parents end up trapped in the other world and Coraline must use all her wits to escape. The imagery is truly haunting and beautiful and (yes) melancholy - almost as if melancholy is manifested in the environment - the other parents' black button eyes, the fluttering paper butterfly, a dismembered hand as pale as bone, an elven child with cobweb wings, black beetles eaten from a paper bag like chocolate raisins. Well worth a read, but not straight before bed!
Is melancholy one of those ingredients that elevates a book into a classic? In both these books, melancholy is sited in the adult world, or more particularly in the child's gaze turned on the adult's world and in the tension of adult/child relationships. It is not the children who themselves are melancholic, it is the adults viewed through the child's eyes, it is the adult's world which the child is separate from but subject to (and they know one day they will enter it - perhaps this is the true source of melancholy, the death of the child, the loss of something childlike in the adult? Or is it the presence of something childlike, a kind of infantile greed? The incompleteness, the transition...) Perhaps if the children themselves are melancholic, are sites or objects of melancholy, then they belong in an adult book, because children don't see themselves as melancholic (whereas adults often see kids as melancholic I think, and childhood as a melancholic state).