Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Runaways - Elizabeth Goudge (formerly called Linnets and Valerians)

Yes, you were just thinking "I don't remember a book by Elizabeth Goudge called The Runaways", weren't you? I liked the old title so much better, but if you want a book to sell and the old title doesn't seem to mean much, perhaps change it.  That's what seems to have happened.  But you know, as a fan of Elizabeth Goudge (particularly her children's books), if you asked me name those children's books, it would be:  Little White Horse; Henrietta's House, and Valley of Song.  How could I have forgotten Linnets and Valerians from my childhood?  I had to get three quarters of the way through before I suddenly thought "I know how this book ends!" Then I remembered that I had recently found and read Smokey-House which I liked too; and I can tell you there are several others waiting for me (and that's without the adult books).   And before I review it, I want to tell you that this particular book won a competition in 2013, many many years after Elizabeth Goudge died.  The reason?  Well, the competition was called Uncover a Children's Classic.  The person who uncovered this little classic was Adrienne Byrne, who has presented a short but lovely introduction to this Hesperus Minor paperback edition.  If you have got this far reading my thoughts, I urge you to find it and read it - and this is why:
  • Product Details

The four Linnet children, with their mother dead and their father currently out in Eygpt with the British army, are staying with their grandmother, a woman who is too old to cope well with four children and a dog under her roof.  For every misdemeanour they are locked up, separately, and this makes them cry and shout all the more. So one morning, urged on by the oldest child Robert, who has managed to get out of his prison first, they escape, over the wall and away.  Actually not very far at all, but when you are a child, an adventure is an adventure!  They walk through the town and onwards where they discover, outside an Inn, a pony and what was called in those days a governess cart, into which they get, and the pony returns to it's own home in the next village with the children.  Home turns out to be the house of their Uncle Ambrose, who they didn't even know they had, and it is his decision to let them stay that changes them for ever.  Ambrose, a retired classical scholar and headmaster of a school probably like Eton is very strict indeed.  They can stay, but if they stay they must submit to an education, and they must also work for their pocket money.  Ezra, the handiman, gardener, housekeeper and cook to Uncle Ambrose is overjoyed - he has taken to the children immediately, and he (and his bees) will take good care of them all.

They will meet nice people and not so nice.  They will become very nice people themselves, but not in a sloppy or wet way.  They will meet a very big negro and a monkey who behaves like a human, both of which are new to them but once the initial shock is over will learn that they are both to be loved. They will also have some quite frightening adventures, as well as lovely ones.  And all children need to be frightened a little bit, don't they?

Describing a time (probably during Queen Victoria's reign) that is unfamiliar to any child now, this is a story full of magic.  The descriptions of things and people are so beautifully drawn you can see them before your eyes.  As a child, maybe you will not understand so readily the problems that adults face; as an adult, you will see the magic and understand what makes a good tale.  As with all Goudge's books, there is the constant fight between good and evil (hardly surprising as her father was a vicar and she never lost her own Christian faith).  Good and evil not of the kinds we hear and see on a daily basis in the 21st Century, but good and evil nonetheless, and when the evil is overcome, it is in a rather extraordinary way.  How to explain the draw of this darling book?  Delicious.  Not like cake although every page made me want another slice.  Wonderful.  There is a spot of magic in it that is wonderful.  Unexplainable.  Set in Devon rather a long time ago, the geography described takes you there, but to a different Devon;  a place where Ezra can still remember the old tales of pixies, good and evil, fallen angels, and you know perhaps that pixies have pointed ears?  So does Ezra.  I review books that I have enjoyed for many reasons.  This one is "just because I found it", but actually, it is more than that - an exciting book for young readers, that taps into the feelings that any child might experience, even though now that experience might be slightly different.  And a wonderful read-aloud too.  If I had children, I would certainly want to read this one with them.  Go on, get a copy and enjoy.