Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

Read a Rainbow: Yellow

On this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I was talking about all things yellow in the third of my semi-regular series of colour-themed shows. I’m continuing to follow the colours of the rainbow with this series, so it’ll be green next time!

You can listen to the show on the player below, but as promised, here’s a list of the books I talked about on the show…

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Like last time (Read a Rainbow: Orange), I started with the obvious choice, albeit a short story rather than a novel. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is a story often associated with the ‘Female Gothic’ mode. It’s the story of a young wife, who is subjected to a ‘rest cure’ by her husband after the birth of their child. She is confined to a room decorated with yellow wallpaper, and she’s denied all sensory or mental stimuli. It isn’t clear whether the woman is truly suffering from post-natal depression, or if the treatment is somewhat crueller than the symptoms, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that, no matter what state of mind she was when she went into the room with yellow wallpaper, being locked in there does her mental state no favours at all. The story has been influential on a lot of the writing about women’s mental health that has followed, and it’s also a really captivating read.

Grand Canary by A.J. Cronin (1933)

This one was a bit of a bait-and-switch. You might think the ‘yellow’ connection is the ‘Canary’ of the title, but actually that refers to the Canary Islands (which aren’t named after the little yellow birds at all). Cronin’s novel follows Dr Leith, a doctor who is leaving England after being held responsible for the death of three patients. Leith is travelling to the Canary Islands for rest and recuperation, but when he arrives he discovers the island gripped by an outbreak of Yellow Fever (and that’s the ‘yellow’ connection!). Although the book is about Dr Leith’s fall from grace and eventual redemption – and it is, in part, about the treatment of Yellow Fever – Grand Canary is really a novel about the people Leith meets along the way, both on the ship from England and on the island itself, and the relationships that he forms.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (1956)

Although probably best known now from the 1957 Disney film adapatation, Old Yeller is a children’s book written by Fred Gipson. Set in Texas in the 1860s, it follows the adventures of Travis Coates and the ‘dingy’ yellow dog who turns up on the family ranch one day. The dog is named ‘Old Yeller’, partly due to his colour, and partly due to the fact that his bark sounds like a human yell. Old Yeller becomes an important part of Travis’s family, saving them all on a number of occasions. But, of course, there’s an unexpected and heart-breaking cloud on the horizon. I guess I should apologize for spoiling the ending of the book on the show… but is there really anyone out there who doesn’t know what happens to Old Yeller in the end? Hankies at the ready for this one!

The Book of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed (2014)

Set in Srinigar, Kashmir, in the 1990s, Waheed’s novel follows the love story between Faiz, an artist, and Roohi. With vivid and beautiful details, the book conjures a strong sense of place and history; however, the beauty and love here are constantly threatened, as Faiz and Roohi’s world is torn apart by the conflicts that rage through Kashmir. Weaving the intimate, personal story of two lovers into a story of brutal national and international warfare, Waheed’s novel explores the very human reality of war and conflict but with a calm grief and a melancholy wisdom. It’s a beautiful story, but it was also nice to include a book on today’s list in which colour – in all its vibrancy – is significant. The shade of yellow that’s most relevant here is, of course, gold, and the significance of the gold leaves, particularly in Faiz’s story, brings together a lot of the themes of the book.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

Obviously, this one doesn’t have a shade of yellow in the title, but it does have a character who shares a name with a yellow shade (Buttercup). I’m actually surprised I haven’t included this one on a previous themed list, as it’s pretty iconic, particularly for people of my generation. Like Old Yeller, this is one that’s perhaps better known for the film adaptation, but if you like the film, you should definitely make sure you read Goldman’s original novel. The storyline of Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, Fessik and Prince Humperdinck is probably well-known enough for me not have to recap, this is only one part of Goldman’s novel. Part of the fun here is from the meta-fictional aspects of the book. The framing narrative is that the author-narrator (a fictional ‘Goldman’ persona) was read S. Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride by his father when he was a child. He loved the book, but he discovered as an adult that the book was actually a lengthy political satire. His dad had abridged it, reading only the ‘good bits’ to the young Goldman. The novel, then, is the ‘good bits’ version of Morgenstern’s book, and the narrator interjects at various points, offering side comments, footnotes and conversational asides. Some of this was captured by the framing narrative in the film, but there’s so much more in the novel.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux (1907)

I ended the show with a classic of the locked room genre (because I do love locked room mysteries). Leroux’s novel is one of the earliest locked room mysteries, paving the way for the development of the genre in the twentieth century. It features Leroux’s amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille, who arrives to investigate a mysterious attack on a woman called Mathilde Stangerson. Mathilde has been found in her bedroom, gravely injured and with the door locked from the inside. There’s no one else in the room with her when she’s discovered, and no way that her attacker could get out of the locked room. Rouletabille interrogates the various people in Mathilde’s life and household, along with a police detective, Frédéric Larsan. The final revelation – admittedly including a few details that are a bit difficult to swallow – has an elegant and logical explanation to the locked room that sets a template for future detective fiction.

To hear more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here:


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