Girl in the Walls by A J Gnuse

Fourth Estate | 18 March 2021 |323 pages | Kindle review copy via NetGalley/ 4*

Description:

She doesn’t exist. She can’t exist.

‘A uniquely gothic tale about grief, belonging and hiding in plain sight’ Jess Kidd, author of Things in Jars

Those who live in the walls must adjust, must twist themselves around in their home,
stretching themselves until they’re as thin as air. Not everyone can do what they can.
But soon enough, they can’t help themselves. Signs of their presence remain in a house.
Eventually, every hidden thing is found.’

Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. The home her parents made for her. And home is where you stay, no matter what.

Eddie calls the same house his home. Eddie is almost a teenager now. He must no longer believe in the girl he sometimes sees from the corner of his eye. He needs her to disappear. But when his older brother senses her, too, they are faced with a question: how do they get rid of someone they aren’t sure even exists?

And, if they cast her out, what other threats might they invite in?

My thoughts:

Set in south Louisiana, Girl in the Walls wasn’t quite what I expected from the book description, but I did enjoy its sense of strangeness and ‘the other’. It’s set in an old house that’s full of strange creaks and scary noises as though someone or some thing is creeping around. It’s a house like no other that I know or have read about. It’s a balloon frame house – that is a house with a timber frame within its outer walls, so there are spaces between the inner and outer walls, beneath the floor and in the attic. Spaces where a young person can crawl and exist. So, Elise is not a ghost but a real eleven year old girl, who lives in these spaces, only coming out when the Masons, the family who live in the house, are asleep or out of the house. And she manages to keep her presence in the house a secret, at least for a while.

Elise is an orphan and has returned to her family home, having escaped from the foster care system. At first, Eddie, the younger son, is the only one of the Masons who senses her presence, feeling that he is being watched and almost catching glimpses of Elise out of the corner of his eye. Eventually his older brother, Marshall too feels that there is some one else in the house, raiding the pantry, taking things and moving things and they decide they have to do something about it. First of all they can’t believe she is actually real and fear what they will find. Elise fears that they will find her.

Their fear is intense as the story takes a terrifying turn, and to make matters worse it is the hurricane season. From a slow start it builds up to a intense nightmare scenario. I think that to say much more would spoil the plot. The characterisation is good, the house is integral to the plot and the setting is brilliantly described. But you do have to suspend your disbelief to enjoy this book – I did!

This is a story about loss, and grief, about safety and security, intermingled with the strange beauty of the landscape and the fears and hopes we all experience. I loved the references to Norse mythology and legends that Elise reads about – Odin, the One-Eyed and how he became the wisest of the gods and about his sons, Thor and Loki.

A J Gnuse explains at the end of the book that he was inspired to write this story after talking to a friend about the strange noises his friend had heard in his apartment and remembered that he had spent much of his childhood in an old creaky house wondering whether someone was sneaking around at night, feeling scared and vulnerable. The house in the book is based on his parents’ house in South Louisiana, where he grew up, where the sea levels are rising as the coast is eroding and the coast is hit by hurricanes,

I wasn’t surprised that he lists Charles Dickens as one of the authors who have influenced his work – there is one particular character in his book who I haven’t mentioned, the monstrous villain who is larger than life and very scary, who wouldn’t have been out of place in a Dickens’ novel. He also lists other authors including, Daphne du Maurier and the Bronte sisters whose descriptive writing captured the eerie beauty of an old house.

Girl in the Walls is described as a ‘gothic’ tale. Gnuse explains that he has been influenced by the literary tradition of the Southern Gothic novel – which is largely unknown to me – referring to writers like Flannery O’Connor – describing its ‘uniquely Gothic sense of the strangeness of decay, of the past latched onto people like vines grown around their legs.‘ I think I need to find out more about this genre of fiction.

My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for my advance review copy.

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

HQ| 7 January 2021|347 pages| Kindle review copy via Netgalley| 2.5*

I hadn’t read any of Robert Thorogood’s books, but I thought I’d enjoy The Marlow Murder Club based on the blurb. It begins well. Seventy-seven year old Judith Potts is happy with her life, living in an Arts and Crafts mansion on the River Thames, although there are hints that there is something in her past she wants to forget. It’s the height of summer, in the grip of a heatwave, and Judith decides to take all her clothes off and go for swim in the Thames. She was enjoying herself when she hears a shout from her neighbour’s house on the opposite riverbank, followed by a gunshot. Later, when she goes to investigate, she finds him, dead in the river, with a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead.

It’s set in Marlow, which is what attracted me to the book as it’s a place I know quite well. The main characters are Judith, Suzie and Becks, who together discover who killed Stefan. They’re all quirky personalities with secrets they’re keeping hidden. Detective Sergeant Tanika Malika leads the police team and eventually when more bodies turn up she agrees that the three woman can help with the official investigation.

The Marlow Club Murder is a ‘cosy’ murder mystery, easy to read and fast paced. Judith is a crossword compiler, who writes cryptic clues so I really enjoyed that aspect of the book, and the relationship between her, Suzie and Becks is well-drawn. But there is quite a lot of repetition as Judith and her friends go over the evidence that they’ve gathered several times and the solution to the murder mystery is easy to predict. The ending is very rushed and let down by convenient coincidences. Overall, I think it’s light, easy reading that is quite entertaining, and the relationship between the three women is what kept me reading to the end of the book.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Orlando: a Biography has been on my TBR shelves for nearly five years now, so I was glad it came up in the Classics Club spin as this gave me the push to actually read it. I won Orlando in one of Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong giveaways in May 2016 and I’m sorry that I haven’t read it before now. I did start it when I first got it, but found it a bit ‘difficult to get into it’ and left it on my bookshelves for while – the while turned out to be nearly five years!

I’ve read some of Virginia Woolf’s books before – Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Kew Gardens (a short story), Flush: a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, A Room of One’s Own and The Three Guineas (in one volume and more recently, I’ve read The Voyage Out, and Death of a Moth and other essays.

Synopsis:

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

My thoughts:

Orlando is a fictionalised biography of Vita Sackville-West, based on her life. They had met in 1922 when Woolf was 40 and Vita was 30, when Wolf described her as ‘lovely’ and ‘aristocratic’. I was a bit overwhelmed at times reading Orlando – such a fantastical novel, spanning 500 years. There are copious literary, historical, and personal allusions and despite continually referring to the Explanatory Notes at the end of the book I’m sure I missed a lot of them. And it makes for a fragmentary reading experience, having to stop reading and flip backwards and forwards between the text and the notes, so that I was a bit confused about the story and what happened when.

But having said that the plot is extraordinary, beginning towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign when Orlando is a young nobleman, and continuing for the next five hundred years to the start of the twentieth century. You have to completely suspend your disbelief, not just for the length of his life, but also for his/her gender as in the late 17th century whilst he is an ambassador for Charles II he falls into a trance for seven days, only to find when he comes to that ‘he’ has become a young woman. As a woman she lives with a group of Turkish gypsies and then returns to England in the 18th century, when she has difficulty in being identified as a woman. In the 19th century she falls in love with a young romantic traveller, finally finding freedom in finishing the poem she began in the 16th century and in experiencing the delights of motoring in the early years of the 20th century.

What I’ve described here is just the bare bones of the book, because there are many vivid passages – such as her description of the ‘Great Frost’ of 1608, when the Thames was frozen for six weeks and Frost Fairs were held on the ice. It hit the country people the hardest:

But while the country people suffered the extremity of want, and the trade of the country was at a stand still, London enjoyed a carnival of the utmost brilliance. The Court was at Greenwich, and the new King seized the opportunity that his coronation gave him to curry favour with the citizens. He directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park or pleasure ground with arbours, mazes, alleys, drinking booths, etc at his expense. For himself and his courtiers, he reserved a certain space immediately opposite the Palace gates; which railed off from the public only by a silken rope, became at once the centre of the most brilliant society in England. (pages 22-23)

She also writes about writing and about books, about the nature of gender, and about the position of women in society over the centuries. One theme that fascinates me is her depiction of the passage of time, particularly in the final section of the book set as the 20th century reached 1928 (the year Orlando was published). Overall it is a book steeped in history showing how the passage of time had changed both the landscape and climate of England along with its society – and I have only scratched the surface in this post. It is a book packed with detail that deserves to be read more than once to appreciate it fully.

  • Publisher : OUP Oxford; 2nd edition (11 Dec. 2014)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 019965073X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0199650736

Cruel Acts and The Cutting Place by Jane Casey

This month I have caught up with reading two of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan books, and having read these two in quick succession I’m feeling as though I’ve overdosed on crime fiction. Too many murders in quick succession. I need to space them out.

Maeve is a Detective Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police – in the first six books she was a detective constable – and her boss Detective Inspector Josh Derwent are the two main characters. They have a confrontational working relationship and their spiky relationship is a recurring theme in the books. In fact they are both strong characters described in depth and completely believable. They’ve both changed as the series has grown, which is why it’s better to read the books in sequence to see how have they’ve developed.

The first book in Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series was The Burning, published in 2010, but I didn’t get round to reading it until February 2015. I was hooked immediately and read the next five books in quick succession by the end of August 2015. These are all police procedurals, fast-paced novels, with intriguing and complex plots and developing the relationships between the main characters. So, I think that although the books read well as stand-alones, it helps enormously to read them in order, especially to follow the relationship between Maeve and DI Josh Derwent.

Cruel Acts is the 8th book in the series and I enjoyed it more than The Cutting Place, the 9th book.

Blurb:
A year ago, Leo Stone was convicted of murdering two women and sentenced to life in prison. Now he’s been freed on a technicality, and he’s protesting his innocence. DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent are determined to put Stone back behind bars where he belongs, but the more Maeve digs, the less convinced she is that he did it. Then another woman disappears in similar circumstances. Is there a copycat killer, or have they been wrong about Stone from the start?

The Cutting Place

Blurb
Everyone’s heard the rumours about elite gentlemen’s clubs, where the champagne flows freely, the parties are the height of decadence . . . and the secrets are darker than you could possibly imagine.

DS Maeve Kerrigan finds herself in an unfamiliar world of wealth, luxury and ruthless behaviour when she investigates the murder of a young journalist, Paige Hargreaves. Paige was working on a story about the Chiron Club, a private society for the richest and most privileged men in London. Then she disappeared. 

It’s clear to Maeve that the members have many secrets. But Maeve is hiding secrets of her own – even from her partner DI Josh Derwent. Will she uncover the truth about Paige’s death? Or will time run out for Maeve first?

~~~

I enjoy crime fiction because I like trying to work out happened and why. But I don’t like reading about horrific murders that are described in gory technicolour detail. Whilst there are brutal murders in these books they’ve not been too much for me to read. They are gritty stories but in The Cutting Place the murders and abuse of women and the violence involved is just a step too far for me. One of the changes in Maeve’s life came about in that book was when she acquired a new boy friend – the lawyer Seth Taylor – I didn’t like him straight away and I was right. Now I would like to know what happens next between Maeve and Josh as it seems to me that their relationship took a significant turn in The Cutting Place! So, I am hoping there will be a 10th book.

Jane Casey’s writing makes compelling reading, always satisfying even if her books take me to places and situations that appal and terrify me. Her books are down to earth and based on real life. As she explains at the end of the book, she is married to a criminal barrister ‘who makes sure her writing is realistic and as accurate as possible.’

Her next book is a standalone thriller, The Killing Kind, to be published 27 May 2021, featuring barrister Ingrid Lewis – one to look out for.

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I downloaded The One I Was by Eliza Graham soon after it was published in May 2015 and I’ve just got round to reading it. It was worth waiting for as I really enjoyed it and think it is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It’s historical fiction split between the present and the past following the lives of Benny Gault and Rosamund Hunter.

It begins in the present as Rosamund goes to Fairfleet, her childhood home, to nurse Benny Gault, who first came to Fairfleet in 1939, having fled Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train. As an adult he bought the house and now he is dying of cancer. It’s a difficult time for Rosamund as she has painful memories of her life at Fairfleet and she is wary about returning – so much so that she doesn’t tell Benny of her connection to the house.

Throughout the book events from both their pasts are revealed, and gradually they discover the connections between them and they come to terms with the traumas that have haunted them. This is a novel about friendship, palliative care, redemption and forgiveness across generations. I was totally engrossed in both their life stories as the various strands of the story eventually combined. Although it was Benny’s story that appealed to me the most – particularly his early life in Germany and the story of how he came to live at Fairfleet – I was also fascinated by the story of Rosamund’s grandmother, one of the few women pilots who flew Spitfires for the Air Transport Auxiliary.

This is obviously a well researched book and Eliza Graham has listed the books she had found invaluable whilst writing The One I Was.

Amazon UK link

I’ve read just two of Eliza Graham’s books, Playing With the Moon and Another Day Gone (linked to my reviews). I hope to read more of her books this year:

Playing with the Moon (2007)
Restitution (2008)
Jubilee (2010)
The History Room (2012)
The One I Was (2014)
Another Day Gone (2016)
The Lines We Leave Behind (2018)
The Truth in Our Lies (2019)
You Let Me Go (2021) – publication date 25 March 2021

Exit by Belinda Bauer

Random House UK, Cornerstone| 21 January 2021| 336 pages| Kindle review copy| 4*

I wasn’t at all sure about Exit by Belinda Bauer when I first started to read it a few months ago, so put it to one side and only picked it up again a few days ago. What initially put me off was the opening chapter, which sets the scene for the work of the Exiteers, a group of people who provide support for people with a terminal illness to end their lives. Their role is ostensibly passive, just to be there to keep the dying company as they take their final breaths. But they do provide the means! And one assignment for John (real name Felix Pink) and Amanda goes wrong when they discover they have ‘helped’ the wrong man.

But I read on and what at first looks like a novel considering the ethics of assisted suicide turns into crime fiction as Felix and Amanda realise they have become murder suspects. It’s all mayhem after that as Felix, overcome with remorse, tries to put things right and to discover how and why the wrong man had died.

Far from being a ‘thriller’ it becomes a borderline ‘cosy’ murder mystery, verging on farce in places and I was amused by the wry humour and surreal scenes. It’s a comedy of errors, interspersed with poignant scenes as we learn about Felix’s grief over the deaths of his wife, Margaret and son James. His thoughts always end up with wondering what Margaret would do in the same situation.

It gets off to a slow start, the pace only gradually picking up in the later chapters, when the multiple twists kept me engaged and keen to know how it would end. There are quite a lot of characters in the book, which I found a bit confusing at first, although the main characters, Felix and Acting DC Calvin Bridges are clearly defined and distinctive characters. Some of the minor characters, such as old Greybeard and other clients in the betting shop, are clearly quirky and their actions absurd. And I particularly liked old Skipper, Albert’s father. But underneath the comedy there is a tragedy, as Felix discovers how he has been deceived all along. And the ending is bitter sweet. I began not sure I really wanted to read Exit and ended it feeling I’m glad I did. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read!

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my proof copy.

Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards

The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards is one of the more enjoyable short story collections that I’ve read. It contains 14 stories in which scientific/technological methods are used in the detection of crime. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards with information about the authors, five of whom were doctors, two were engineers and one was an academic chemist.

As always with short story collections some stories are better than others. I’m highlighting a few of the better ones here:

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by A Conan Doyle was originally published in the Strand Magazine in October 1891, and is the first short story to feature Inspector Lestrade. It’s a solid story, solved by Sherlock Holmes by inspecting and analysing the footprints and signs at the scene of the crime.

The Horror of Studley Grange by L T Meade and Clifford Halifax (1894), from Stories for the Diary of a Doctor, originally published in the Strand Magazine. I enjoyed this one although it was pretty easy to predict. Ostensibly a ghost story, the solution involves the use of a laryngoscope.

After Death the Doctor by J J Connington, a Scottish professor of chemistry. This one was first published in 1934, involving a contemporary scientific gadget. The doctor in question is Doctor Shefford who together with Sergeant Longridge, investigate the murder of old Barnaby Leadburn, found dead with his throat cut.

The next two are the ones I enjoyed the most:

The Broken Toad by H C Bailey, first published in 1934, featuring the surgeon and Home Office Consultant, Reggie Fortune as he considers the death of a police constable from poisoning. I enjoyed all the detailed complications and Bailey’s literary mannered style of storytelling.

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L Sayers, first published in 1939, about forensic dentistry, which starts as Lord Peter Wimsey is sitting in his dentist’s chair. The police had just visited the surgery, wanting to see his predecessor’s records to identify the victim of a burnt out garage. An upper right incisor crown and the filling in a molar provided the clues to his death. Gory if you actually visualise what is involved!

  • Publisher : Poisoned Pen Press (4 Feb. 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1492699624
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1492699620
  • Source: The Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3.5*

V2 by Robert Harris

Random House UK, Cornerstone| 17 September 2020| 314 pages| Kindle review copy| 5*

Description

Victory is close. Vengeance is closer.

On the brink of defeat, Hitler commissioned 10,000 V2s – ballistic rockets that carried a one-ton warhead at three times the speed of sound, which he believed would win the war.

Dr Rudi Graf who, along with his friend Werner von Braun, had once dreamt of sending a rocket to the moon, now finds himself in November 1944 in a bleak seaside town in Occupied Holland, launching V2s against London. No one understands the volatile, deadly machine better than Graf, but his disillusionment with the war leads to him being investigated for sabotage.

Kay Caton-Walsh, an officer in the WAAF, has experienced first-hand the horror of a V2 strike. When 160 Londoners, mostly women and children, are killed by a single missile, the government decides to send a team of WAAFs to newly-liberated Belgium in the hope of discovering the location of the launch sites. But not all the Germans have left and Kay finds herself in mortal danger.

As the war reaches its desperate end, their twin stories play out, interlocked and separate, until their destinies are finally forced together.

My thoughts:

V2 is historical fiction with a solid factual framework. I like to know when I’m reading historical fiction how much is history and how much is fact. So, I was pleased to find that at the end of the book Harris has included a list of the sources he consulted on the history of the V2 and how it worked, including the work of the photographic reconnaissance interpreters, before writing V2. In particular he acknowledges Eileen Younghusband’s two volumes of memoirs – Not an Ordinary Life and One Woman’s War. She had worked as a WAAF officer on the Mechelen operation, working on detecting the location of the V2 launch sites, and her memoirs had provided him with a vivid insight into her wartime life. Without them he would not have written V2.

It’s set over five days at the end of November 1944 as the Germans fired V2 missiles on London from the woods around Scheveningen on the Dutch coast. The British response was a counter-operation, including a team of WAAFs. The cast includes some historical figures such as Werner von Braun, the real-life head of the Nazi rocket programme, and SS-General Hans Kammler. It’s told in alternating chapters from two of the fictional characters’ perspectives – Dr Rudi Graf, a rocket engineer on the V2 team and Kay Caton-Walsh of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Kay was part of the team based at Mechelen using radar to try to locate the V2 firing sites. Harris emphasises that his fictional character, Kay, bore no resemblance to Mrs Younghusband, apart from the fact that she worked on the Mechelen project.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, learning a lot about that period of the Second World War and about the V2. It is detailed and tense, and very readable, describing the intricate details of the launching of the V2s and Kay’s work, which became increasingly dangerous as their location became known to the Germans.

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my digital proof copy.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

In December I read 12 books, most of them short ones, and because I was reading them one after the other I hardly paused to write about them. Before they slip out of my memory I want to write about some of them at least. –

I particularly want to write about The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler as it is one of those books that I’ve always heard about but have never read. It’s been on my Kindle for the last three years. It was first published in 1939 and is an excellent example of what is known as ‘hardboiled’ crime fiction, which generally featured a private eye with a whisky bottle in a filing cabinet, a femme fatale, and rich and usually corrupt clients. Female sexuality is a snare in a dangerous society where manipulative politicians and corrupt police thrive.

About the book:

Best-known as the creator of the original private eye, Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888 and died in 1959. Many of his books have been adapted for the screen, and he is widely regarded as one of the very greatest writers of detective fiction. His books include The Big SleepThe Little SisterFarewell, My LovelyThe Long Good-byeThe Lady in the LakePlaybackKiller in the RainThe High Window and Trouble is My Business.

The Big Sleep has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, and again in 1978, with Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark.

My thoughts:

The novel is narrated by Philip Marlow, who describes himself as a ‘lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich.’ He’s been in jail more than once, likes liqour and women and the cops don’t like him much, although he does get on with a couple of them.

It’s not really the type of crime fiction that I like, but I did enjoy it. There are damsels in distress, gangsters, corrupt officials, and plenty of dark, violent and bloody situations. And of course there are murders – the ‘big sleep’ is death, after all. It’s fast-paced, violent, complicated and in times I found it a bit difficult to follow.

Reading the book took me back in time and place to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, a baking hot LA in which Private Investigator Marlow is hired by the paralysed millionaire General Stallwood, who is being blackmailed. His investigations are hampered by the General’s two daughters, one of whom proves to be a femme fatale, out to entrap Marlow and vindictive when her efforts fail. Chandler’s writing is sharp, snappy and richly descriptive with witty one-liners.

The Secret Garden – Book and Film

Recently I watched the 2020 film of The Secret Garden. The first thing so say it is that it is not like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book. The basic premise is the same – Mary Lennox is an orphaned child who goes to live with her uncle in Yorkshire where she discovers a secret garden. I’m not going to describe the differences between the book and the film – there are so many – but the main difference is the garden itself. And that is what disappointed me the most about the film.

The ‘garden’ is not a garden – it is a huge version of maybe the Amazon rain forest, a digital fantasy, nothing like the garden in the book. And Misselthwaite Manor has been morphed into Misselthwaite Hall, a huge palatial building dominating the Yorkshire skyline. And what has become of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener and Mrs Sowerby, Dickon and Martha’s mother? They are just not in the film!

If you don’t like modern versions of old favourites, then steer clear of this film – it is nothing like the book. It’s CGI ‘magic’ is simply not the real Magic of the natural world.

This is what I wrote about the book when I last re-read it 8 years ago. I’m tempted to read it again to obliterate the film from my imagination.

I read The Secret Garden several times as a child and the story has stayed with me ever since. For years my picture of the ideal garden has been a walled garden, just like the secret garden. The story can be read on different levels. As a child it seemed to me to be a straight forward story of Mary Lennox, orphaned after her parents died of cholera in India. Up until the age of nine she had lived a cosseted life looked after by servants, in particular her Ayah, ignored by her parents. After their death she was sent to live at Misselthwaite Manor, on the bleak Yorkshire moors, with her uncle, who was a hunchback recluse, who took little interest in her. Soon after Mary’s arrival, her uncle went abroad leaving her again in the care of servants. These were very different from the servants in India and Mary struggled to adjust.

Soon after she discovers she is not the only child in the house, when she finds Colin, her cousin, a hypochondriac, unable to walk, who believes he won’t live to grow up. Both Mary and Colin are selfish children, hating both themselves and the adults in their lives. Both also hate the outdoors, but encouraged by Martha, her maid, Mary wanders in the gardens of the Manor house and comes across a walled garden, which apparently has no door. There seems no way to get inside it – until guided by a robin, she finds an old key buried in the earth. I loved the descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, the garden and how under the influence of Martha and her younger brother Dickon and even the grumpy gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, Mary blossomed as the year progressed along with the garden.

Reading it now I can see it is full of symbolism using nature, the Bible and myths, that I never noticed as a child. The image of the garden is used as both paradise lost and paradise regained. As the garden is nurtured and begins to blossom so do Mary and Colin, through springtime and into summer, culminating in the autumn when both are brought to full health. Dickon is accompanied by a young fox, a lamb, a crow and tame squirrels, reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi and plays his pipe to charm the animals, like Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, is a plain-speaking down-to-earth Yorkshire woman, full of common sense and wisdom, who through Dickon and Martha helps the children, feeding Mary and Colin with both her words and wholesome food. At times I thought the language becomes over sentimental and a bit syrupy (I never thought that as a child). But there are descriptions that still appeal to me, such as this description of the roses in the garden:

And the roses – the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sundial, wreathing the tree trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades – they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair, fresh leaves and buds – and buds – tiny at first, but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air. (page 210 in my copy)

Above all it is the power of Magic that is invoked in this book. The magic of nature, that makes plants and people grow and develop, the magic of the power of positive thinking and prayer, of the healing power of the mind, and of laughter and love. Sometimes it seemed too simplistic and yet at the same time I was swept along with the sentiments and enjoying the experience of re-reading this book.