The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for stormy weather


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Stormy weather

Cure: Holes by Louis Sachar

The January storms may have created a need to batten down the hatches and find comfort in a bowl of steaming onion soup. But if home cooking is not your forte, fall back on the literary equivalent. Louis Sachar's Holes is a hot, satisfying novel that will not only take you to a place very far from blizzards and gales, but offer the sort of moral certainties that only regular meal times and nutrient-packed root vegetables can otherwise provide.

When Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake for a crime he committed by accident, he puts his bad luck down to the influence of his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather", also named Stanley Yelnats. For Stanley has a colourful family history – almost as colourful, in fact, as the past of Camp Green Lake. It doesn't take Stanley long to realise "Mister Sir" has an ulterior motive for forcing the miscreant youths in his charge to dig enormous holes all day long in the sweltering desert heat under oath to report anything unusual that they find. And that the camp's association with onions, with Kissing Kate Barlow, and with the horrifyingly poisonous yellow-spotted lizard, may all have something to do with that motive.

As he strives to endure the relentless "character-building" labour, he starts to piece the puzzle of his own past – and that of Camp Green Lake – together. One day he finds a lipstick with the initials 'KB' in one of his own holes, and decides he now knows enough to follow his new friend Zero. Because despite being without water or a map, Zero has thrown himself on the mercy of the desert, choosing it over their sadistic gaolers at the camp...

Go, with Stanley, into the arid dust-bowl of Texas, and discover your own resourcefulness as he discovers his. While the storms rage outside, you'll see the importance of friendship, support – and, perhaps most of all, onions.