Lynne Reid Banks, author of 'The Indian in the Closet,' dies at 94

Lynne Reid Banks, a versatile British author who began her writing career with the best-selling feminist novel “The L-Shaped Room” but found her greatest success with the popular children's book “The Indian in the Cupboard” , died Thursday in Surrey. , England. She was 94.

Her death, in a nursing facility, was caused by cancer, said James Wills, her literary agent.

Ms Banks was part of a generation of writers, including Shelagh Delaney and Margaret Drabble, who emerged in post-war Britain and whose books explored the struggles of young women seeking personal and financial independence, in stark contrast to the contemporary literature of “angry young men”. movement defined by John Osborne and Kingsley Amis.

Over the course of her long career, Ms. Banks's character portrayals have often been called insensitive and her language offensive, particularly in her two best-known works. She was a complicated, sometimes contradictory figure who became increasingly unapologetic about her firm opinions.

“The L-Shaped Room” (1960), lauded by critics as a second-wave feminist novel, tells the story of an unmarried secretary whose conservative, middle-class father throws her out of the house when she tells him she is pregnant. Instead of turning to the child's father, she rents a small L-shaped room on the top floor of a boarding house in London and becomes part of a makeshift family of fellow boarding houses, including a Caribbean-born jazz musician. Class, race, sexism and the danger of illegal abortions are all central to the plot.

Ms. Banks did not consider herself a feminist when she wrote the book; she as a young woman coming of age in the 1950s, she said, she thought men were superior.

But he soon changed his mind. “What a joke,” she told the BBC program “Bookclub” in 2010. “I mean, I don't believe it anymore. I think that women are the infinitely superior sex and that men are probably the most dangerous creatures on the planet.”

Ms. Banks came to regret the racial clichés used in her portrayal of the Caribbean roommate in “The L-Shaped Room,” acknowledging that racism had permeated her narrative. “The prejudices existed and they came out in this book, and it's shameful, but they were there,” she told the BBC. “They were absolutely part of the atmosphere.”

The novel immediately became a best seller in Great Britain and was made into a film, released in the United States in 1963 and starring Leslie Caron, who was nominated for an Oscar for best actress.

After the publication of “The Indian in the Closet” in 1980, the New York Times hailed it as the best children's novel of the year. Ms. Banks wrote four sequels.

The first book in the series begins when a boy, Omri, is given an old medicine cabinet with magical properties: when he places plastic action figures inside, they come to life. The first toy he brings to life is a Native American named Little Bear, the “Indian” of the title. One of Omri's friends puts his toy cowboy in the locker and a well-worn conflict ensues.

Although the supposed message to young readers was the importance of tolerance and respect for other cultures, Ms. Banks was later accused of perpetuating stereotypes. (Little Bear speaks in a dialect of broken English, and the cowboy is a laconic man who likes his whiskey.)

By the fourth book, “The Closet” (1993), critics had grown impatient with the clichéd characters that would emerge from the magic closet. “Through its innocent-looking mirrored door marches a succession of courageous, if creaky, cultural stereotypes, always predictable and true to the dictates of their sex, ethnic group or time,” wrote fiction writer Michael Dorris in the New York Times Book Review.

In 1991 the American Indian Library Association listed “The Indian in the Cupboard” series among “titles to avoid,” and a British Columbia school board temporarily removed the first book from its libraries in 1992, citing “the offensive treatment of native peoples.” “

However, the series remained popular, and “The Indian in the Cupboard” was adapted into a 1995 film directed by Frank Oz.

Lynne Reid Banks was born in London on July 31, 1929. She was the only child of James and Muriel (Reid) Banks. Her father, Scottish, was a doctor; her mother, Irish and known as Pat, was an actress.

As a child, during World War II, Lynne was evacuated with her mother to Canada, where they settled in Saskatchewan. It was a mostly happy time and the human cost of the war only became clear when she returned to London at 15.

“I found my city in ruins,” he said in an interview for the landmark work “Authors and Artists for Young Adults.” When she learned of the wartime hardships the rest of her family had endured, she was horrified and ashamed. “I felt like a deserter,” she said.

She first pursued a career as an actress, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and working in repertory theatre. She also began writing plays. In 1955, she became one of the first television reporters in England, working for Independent Television News (later ITV). One day in the editorial office she was asked to try a new type of typewriter. One sentence led to another and she realized that she was writing in the voice of a pregnant, unmarried and lonely woman. These first casual phrases became the seeds of the “L-Shaped Room.”

“I didn't know I had a book,” he later told the BBC. “I knew I had a situation.”

The novel's success gave her the freedom to write full-time and she quit television work. But her life took another turn when she met and married Chaim Stephenson, a sculptor, and she moved to Israel to join him on a kibbutz.

The move led her mother to accuse her of wasting her talent and putting herself in a dangerous, “soul-stopping” situation, Ms. Banks wrote in The Guardian in 2017. But she loved her adopted country, and taught English and continued to study. she wrote while she raised three children, until the family returned to England in 1971.

Ms. Banks wrote two sequels to “The L-Shaped Room” — “The Backward Shadow” (1970) and “Two is Lonely” (1974) — as well as two books about the Brontë sisters: “Dark Quartet: The Story of the Brontë” (1976) and “The Road to the Silent Country: Charlotte Brontë's Years of Fame” (1977).

He began writing books for children and young adults in the 1970s, incorporating elements of magic and fantasy that would find full expression in “The Indian in the Closet.” Overall, he has written more than 45 books for adults and children, many with Jewish themes, as well as 13 plays produced for radio and theater.

The challenges of single motherhood were a theme Ms. Banks returned to in 2014 in “Uprooted, A Canadian War Story,” a children's novel based on the years she and her mother spent in Canada during the war.

He leaves three sons, Adiel, Gillon and Omri Stephenson, and three nephews. Her husband died in 2016.

Mrs. Banks remained productive in her later years. “It's good to be old,” she wrote in The Guardian in 2017, in an essay on the benefits of aging. “I can be eccentric, self-indulgent, even offensive.”

Indeed, at the age of 85, he sparked another literary furore when he wrote a letter objecting to the Guardian's decision to award the children's fiction prize to David Almond for his book “A Song for Ella Grey” (2015 ), writing that a book featuring “lesbian sex”, as well as swearing and drinking, was not suitable for children.

A predictable outcry ensued in response to his letter. “Even though I'm still on the fringes of modern life,” she wrote, “being old means I've stopped caring what people think of my opinions.”

Sofia Poznansky contributed reporting,

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