Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston



published 1954

Green Knowe


[The young boy Toseland is meeting his great-grandmother for the first time, in the ancient house where she lives]

The room seemed to be the ground floor of a castle, much like the ruined castles that he had explored on school picnics, only this was not a ruin. It looked as if it never possibly could be. Its thick stone walls were strong, warm and lively. It was furnished with comfortable polished old-fashioned things as though living in castles was quite ordinary. Toseland stood just inside the door and felt it must be a dream.

His great-grandmother was sitting by a huge open fireplace where logs and peat were burning. The room smelled of woods and wood-smoke. He forgot about her being frighteningly old. She had short silver curls and her face had so many wrinkles it looked as if someone had been trying to draw her for a very long time and every line put in had made the face more like her . She was wearing a soft dress of folded velvet that was as black as a hole in darkness. The room was full of candles in glass candlesticks, and there was candlelight in her ring when she held out her hand to him…The folds of her dress seemed both to weigh her down and hold her up.

 
Green Knowe 3

observations: It feels like kicking unicorns to say so, but I didn’t like this book much. I read it as a child and didn’t like it, and I saw a TV version back then and didn’t like it. (Why would a child watch an adaptation of a book she didn’t like? Because we didn’t have many options in those days, no chance of a DVD or old favourite instead…) . Last year I took great pleasure in deciding that as an adult I COULD get something out of Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden (another book I disliked as a child) – I said then:

I still think the first half is boring and badly-structured – I’m surprised everyone makes it to the end. I know, I know, blasphemy. Anyway, totes worth it for the final quarter… It has an almost unbearably moving ending.
I was hoping for something similar here, but no, the book had no magic for me at all, I thought it was tiresome and boring and weirdly unpleasant: they rub margarine on Tolly’s hands so that birds will come and peck there? (This is meant to be a good thing, not some strange torture.) There are ghosts of some previous child inhabitants hanging around, and a lot of animals, and comic gardeners.

There is a big tree called Green Noah, and here the book links up with – of all strange things – Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End (a great blog favourite, which we took to the Guardian). Ford’s Tietjens family has something called The Great Tree of Groby, and both books make much of these trees and the possibility of their coming down and what that might mean, with a supernatural implication.

I read another book in the series, The River at Green Knowe, and that was even worse, close to unreadable, and with some very strange attitudes in it.

But the book has been immensely popular with many children for many years, so there must be something in it. I hope someone who loves the books will come into the comments and explain it to me.

 
Green knowe2

The stories were based on a real house where Lucy Boston lived – the top photo and the one immediately above show a child's bedroom and the exterior there.  This building was used in the TV show I saw as a child, and in her book on the history of children’s TV, Into the Box of Delights, Anna Home says:
It is one of the oldest inhabited buildings in the UK. Many of the things described in the book were in the house and gardens and, as in the book, the birds came inside to be fed. Lucy Boston herself was a formidable woman and daunting at first meeting. She did not have a TV set and was unclear about what having a television crew in the house meant. However, once she got over her first suspicion she was charming and welcoming.
She sounds great, I wish I liked her stories.
Green Knowe 4


There are a handful of illustrations in my edition of the book, done by Mrs Boston’s son Peter, and they are absolutely marvellous, really beautiful – this is one of them to the right.






The second picture – Lady in Black by Emil Fuchs – is from the Brooklyn Museum, who are wonderfully generous with permission to use their images.

The reason I re-read this book is because of a character called Linnet in it – going back to this previous entry, and I’ll do another post on this in future.













14 comments:

  1. I'm actually a huge fan of this book, and of An Enemy at Green Knowe (which is really quite surprisingly full-on scary). I also loved The Chimneys of Green Knowe which is about a slave boy and a little blind girl who lived there in around 1800. Not quite so mad about the other books in the series, although Stranger is supposed to be incredibly good and to give one of the best fictional impressions of what it must be like to be a captured wild animal brought to a strange country.

    But then, I love the idea of the past crossing over with the present and history crossing paths. To me, it's a world I love very much and very deeply - maybe it's a book you need to have read as a child to "get" it. I learned "Green Grow the Rushes, O!" from it, and the cries for St Christopher to "come quickly, come quickly!" still send chills down my spine to remember them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you might be right Daniel - so many classic children's books I love - loved then and love now - but this one just didn't do it for me. but just hearing you describe them makes me see I must be missing something....

      Delete
    2. I'm with Daniel on this - An Enemy at Green Knowe is utterly terrifying and very tightly structured, and 'The Chimneys' is also a satisfying read.

      Delete
    3. I got two in a Kindle bundle, and one reviewer did complain that they should have put those ones in instead of The River.

      Delete
  2. Moira - It is interesting isn't it how some books/series are extremely popular, but when you go to read them, it's hard to work out why. I've had that experience myself, and I suppose it shows how different individual tastes can be. I am sorry to hear you didn't care for this one, although I have to say I like the description of the house in the snippet you shared. Still, if a story doesn't carry you off, it doesn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose there's no reason we would all like the same children's books, any more than we all like the same adult fiction. And she could write well, no argument there. Just ... not my book.

      Delete
  3. One of the 99-percenters I'm afraid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The funny thing is, I'm with you this time - even though everyone else likes it!

      Delete
  4. I think our response to books is primarily emotional, and not very rational, so it's quite difficult to persuade someone to change their opinion - and I wouldn't presume to try. I love the Green Knowe books, but I can quite see that they're not to everyone taste. I didn't like The Ardens, or The Runaways, but everyone else raved about them, and I really wish I could see what they see in them...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right Christine - and there might be so many reasons why one story would appeal where another didn't. Bruno Bettelheim would make much of our choices. Our head tells us we all like different books, no big deal, but our heart wants our friends to share our loves....

      Delete
  5. I liked the book extract, although I doubt if I would like the book. The images are all wonderful. It amazes me that you remember so many books you read as a child. I can remember a couple of adult themed books that I read that my parents did not know about. And some of the mysteries I read as a teenager. And Flicka, Ricka and Dicka. That is about it. I read a lot, unlike the other children in my family. I just don't remember what I read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's funny how we vary - I remember a lot of childhood books really well, I can picture their covers, I can see myself getting them down from a shelf at the library. I remember them better than some adult books.

      Delete
  6. Moira, I can't help you since I have never read the author. I think this is one of those rare occasions when you didn't like a book you reviewed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know - I don't usually cover books I didn't like, but I was intrigued by this one, and knew that I would be very interested in others' comments....

      Delete