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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

Monday, 29 March 2021

"Swallowdale" by Arthur Ransome

 In this classic children's adventure book, written in 1930. the Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) and Nancy and Peggy Blackett, who sail the Amazon, continue their adventures in the Lake District. When their sailing dinghy, Swallow, is shipwrecked, the Walkers have to camp ashore and the Amazons are being forced to behave like young ladies by the visit of their Great-Aunt. But there is still room for lots of adventures including climbing the highest hill, getting lost in the fog both ashore and afloat, and racing. 

It is very much of its time in that colonialist attitudes are ingrained. These are privileged white upper-middle-class children. The role of Susan as home-maker is also potentially sexist: "That was Susan's strong point. She never allowed excitements such as sleeping in the open half-way up a mountain, or a naval battle, or a dangerous bit of exploring, to interfere with the things that really matter, such as seeing that water is really boiling before making tea with it, having breakfast at the proper time, washing as usual, and drying anything that might be damp. Really, if it had not been for Susan, half the Swallows' adventures would have been impossible." (Ch 26) But the other girl characters include Titty, the imaginative dreamer who turns their everyday adventures into magic by drawing on her knowledge of story-book pirates and explorers, and Nancy, a larger-than-life tomboy who is a match for 'Captain' John in every way. 

There are some great moments:

  • "They found, like many explorers before them, that somehow, in their absence, they had got into trouble at home." (Ch 4)
  • "'You needn't mind now', said Nancy, looking at John. 'It isn't as if she was at the bottom of the sea'." (Ch 6)
  • "Just think what it would have been like if you had had to swim ashore in the Arctic, in winter, with no sun and no wood to make a fire, and nothing but snow and seals and polar bears. There'd have been some proper shivering of timbers." (Ch 9)
  • "Never take off too much. If you take off too little you can always take off a bit more, but if you take off too much you can never put it back." (Ch 15) Advice I have always remember (too late) throughout my long and disastrous career in DiY.

Swallowdale isn't usually remembered as a S&A book but to my mind its careful story-telling make it one of the best.

This review was written by 
the author of Motherdarling


The Swallows and Amazon series contained twelve books:
  • Swallows and Amazons: Children camping on an island in a lake have sailing based adventures
  • Swallowdale: More sailing adventures are threatened when the Swallow sinks
  • Peter Duck: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint sail on a big yacht into the Caribbean in search of pirate treasure; pirates pursue
  • Winter Holiday: the lake freezes allowing a sledge-based expedition to the 'north pole'; the 'D's are introduced
  • Coot Club: The Ds join the Death and Glory kids in the Norfolk Broads but the excitement is just as great when birds have to be protected from rowdies.
  • We Didn't Mean to go to Sea: The Swallows accidentally find themselves at sea in a yacht they scarcely know: for my money this is the most dramatic and exciting book of the series.
  • Secret Water: The Swallows are joined by the Amazons in an expedition to map some tidal mud-flats
  • The Big Six: The Death and Glory kids have to be cleared of accusations of crime; the Ds help.
  • Missee Lee: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint are shipwrecked near China and captured by a lady Chinese pirate with a taste for Latin.
  • Pigeon Post: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds search for gold in the hills above the Lake; one of my favourites
  • The Picts and the Martyrs: The Ds have to hide in the hills when the Great Aunt comes to stay with the Amazons
  • Great Northern: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds and Captain Flint are protecting birds in the far north of Scotland.

Other books by this author:

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