There are times I’m drawn back to my childhood. Picking up this book was one of those times. I never understand this book when I first read it, but that was many years ago and I’ve learned much since then. Sounds a bit clichéd but even clichés can be true.
This book is set in the time of King James III in the early 19th Century. The history is slightly altered, but there’s enough to be able to make match some of the history in the book with real history. I found this sort of thing rather disconcerting when I was young. I needed either a straight history book or a straight fiction book with nothing in between.
If you decide to read it then remember you’re reading a children’s book. Published in 1964 when there were children’s books and adult books with very little in between. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger was already around, but was written for adults even though it’s considered more as a book for teenagers. The tone of the book does not talk down to children, though, it treats them as little adults.
There is so much historical data in this book. We get a really good flavour of London, how it looks and feels, and how close everything is. I’ve grown up in Melbourne which is so big that walking from point A to point B is generally not easy to do, but in Aiken’s London everything seems to close enough for a 15 minute walk. Aiken gives us great details without the reader ever feeling as if they’ve been lectured to. The scene of Simon having a bath indicates something we would now consider a camping shower, with a shower-pan above the bath. With a pull of the string the water comes crashing down onto his head, he can then sit in the bathwater and soap up. Something he does with much relish.
There are many quick descriptive pieces each of which add to the others to create a whole. If I had an artistic bent I would be able to get some good drawings to illustrate some parts of this novel. I love how they kindle a fire in the grounds of the Academy. This is the whole paragraph.
“Here, young ‘un, just hold that bit of tinder, will you?” Gus pulled out flint and steel and a handful of carpenters’ shavings from his pouch and soon expeditiously kindled a small fire under the shelter of the portico.
So few words, but I now know something about kindling a fire in that I didn’t know before. Carpenters’ shavings are really good for starting a fire. I would write more but I’ve just spent half an hour immersed in the book instead of a quick dip in to find something to write about. I’m not saying there’s nothing to write about, more about how hard it is to only read a few paragraphs. I’ll have to read it again another time when I’m free to just read.
In case you’d like to step back in time and look at the book, or even buy it for yourself, here is a link. Thank you to all those who have clicked on a link, the numbers are looking quite pretty.