Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine (1957)
I think I started this one three or four times before I really began to get into it, on each occasion rapidly losing enthusiasm and switching to The Coming Race, or Earth Abides, or The Mind Parasites. Dandelion Wine is loosely autobiographical, constituting an attempt to recapture not only childhood, but to recapture childhood as perceived through the eyes of youth with all colours and sounds brighter and so much more meaningful than they appear in later years when rods, cones, and brain cells have turned to semolina. It does this exceptionally well with a richly evocative prose bordering on - I suppose - a sort of magic realism. In fact it does it so well that the honeyed tone of the text takes some getting used to, or at least it did for me, never quite turning into narrative Thomas Kinkade, but at times making your average episode of The Waltons seem like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Nevertheless, at last getting beyond the first twenty pages, Dandelion Wine proves itself worth the effort as the warmly orange glow of nostalgia is contrasted with a well drawn measure of childhood terror:
There were a million small towns like this all over the world. Each as dark, as lonely, each as removed, as full of shuddering and wonder. The reedy playing of minor-key violins was the small towns' music, with no lights, but many shadows. Oh, the vast swelling loneliness of them. The secret damp ravines of them. Life was a horror lived in them at night, when at all sides sanity, marriage, children, happiness, were threatened by an ogre called Death.
The point of this is of course that you can't really have the good stuff without the more nightmarish elements. The detail of the book is wonderfully gauged, presenting a child's typically obsessive focus on the minutiae of ritual, and a juvenile associative understanding of a world in which old people may well have lived forever and you really can build such a thing as a happiness machine if you know how to go about it. Even more impressive is the simultaneous contrast of a seemingly endless summer experienced with the urgent childhood awareness of running out of time, and that everything must either cease or change.
That said, or at least acknowledged, I did feel that Dandelion Wine rambled somewhat, and possibly could have done a better job with a lower page count; but then I've met people who regard this as an essentially perfect novel, so I'm fairly sure it's just me, as suggested by the difficulty I had getting started with it in the first place.