This children's book is a masterclass on how to say a lot with very few words.
Sophie is pulled from the wreck of the Queen Mary as a one year old baby by Charles, a scholar, who becomes her guardian. They live in Victorian London. When Sophie reaches twelve, the authorities believe that Charles, a single man, is unsuitable and so they plan to put Sophie into an orphanage; the pair escape to France because Sophie believes her mother may live there.
On the roof of their hotel in Paris, Sophie meets Matteo, a wild boy who lives on rooftops (and speaks remarkably good English). Matteo guides Sophie across the rooftops in her quest to find her mother. The life of the rooftoppers is explained in unglamorous details: when Matteo explains that feet must be bare so toes can help to grip the roofs, Sophie asked whether his toes get cold and he answers: Yes.
This book is remarkable for its imagination but chiefly for the brilliance of its prose. Impossible, nearly magical things are written about with such simplicity that it reads like truth. And the descriptions are pared down to nearly nothingness but the few words left are exactly the right ones: when Sophie attends her first classical concert the pianist "made the sorts of faces that Sophie associated with being very itchy."
The book I was most reminded of as I read this was Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping whcih has the same sort of simple way of describing impossibilities. These are barefaced lies made convincing by the lack of artifice. It is the way the Bible is written: this happened and then that. And it helps when the prose is as lyrical as that of Wycliffe.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57