Christmas Book Advent Calendar: ‘Jill’s Gymkhana’ by Ruby Ferguson

Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson (illustration from Caney, A Stable for Jill).

The theme for today’s bookish advent is that of Christmas presents. What is Christmas Day without presents, especially for young children? I’m going to describe a few extracts from Ruby Ferguson’s marvellous children’s book – ‘Jill’s Gymkhana’ – the first in a long series of books about a horse mad heroine.

I think that we can agree, that for true bibliophiles, Christmas presents can be divided into the ones that have us jumping for joy (bookish presents) and presents that leave us a little less excited (non-bookish presents).

For horse-living Jill Crewe of Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Jill Books’, Christmas morning was filled with the anticipation of receiving ‘horsey gifts’.

Lying in bed on Christmas morning and lighting her bedside candle, Jill spied several interesting looking parcels on the table beside her bed.

The contained cards and Christmas money from her Godmother, a fountain pen from her Mother, a boring boarding school book from cousin Cecilia entitled ‘ The Madcap of the School’, a manicure set from one aunt, a set of handkerchiefs from another and a pair of yellow string gloves from her best friend Ann.

Jill immediately thought of a number of horsey things she could have bought instead of her Mother’s fountain pen but tried to quell these unworthy thoughts.

Later in the day Ann and a family friend called Martin come to visit and there is tea, iced buns and a proper Christmas cake. There’s a meaningful passage between Martin and Jill’s family over the exchange of expensive presents on Martin’s part. Martin argues that Jill and her Mother have done so much to make his Christmas time feel joyful with their company and he urges them to accept his gift in return.

But most of all I liked how Jill made her mum a big cup of tea in a favourite fluted green cup and saucer and presented her with the tea in bed on Christmas morning. I think that was extremely thoughtful!

At the end of the day, this is what Jill had to say about her first Christmas in Chatton,

“After getting all these wonderful presents, especially the horsy ones that I hadn’t expected, I think you will agree with me that it was a very nice Christmas.”

Christmas Book Advent Calendar : Penny Plain by O Douglas

Penny Plain

‘Penny Plain’ by O Douglas is one of my most favourite books by the Scottish writer O. Douglas or Anna Buchan, set in the lowland town of Priorsford, in the Scottish Borders. It tells the story of a poor and struggling young family- the Jardins – motherless and fatherless -looked after by their very young older sister Jean. There are two younger brothers, one at Oxford, one at school and an adopted brother of sorts, called the Mhor, and they all live in a delightfully quirky cottage called ’The Rigs’ whose slightly elevated front room resembles the prow of a ship that looks up to the hills.


A lively young socialite comes to live next door, befriends the family and creates quite a stir in the sleepy town of Priorsford. I adore the book because of its cozy descriptions of family life and home. Jean is an endearing heroine. There is a special chapter devoted to Christmas in Priorsford and I’m going to speak about it now.


The youngest member of the family, the Mhor, looked forward to Christmas as soon as Halloween was over. Jock the schoolgoing brother had drawn out a Christmas timetable, enlisting the main events of the day, spread out intentionally over the entirety of the day, in order to escape the disappointment and irritability of Christmas days of past, where present giving and enjoyment was over in the morning.
The timetable consisted thus :-


7.30. stockings

8.30. Breakfast

9. Postman

10-12. Deliver small presents to various friends

1. Luncheon at the Jowetts

4. Tea at home and present giving

5-9. Devoted to supper and variety entertainment


The descriptions of the variety entertainments were my favourite consisting of a series of plays put up by the boys, with the disastrous result of nearly setting fire to the hastily put together stage, while lighting the funeral pyre during Anthony’s oratory over Caesar.


Most memorable is Mrs McCosh’s (the house help’s) exclamation over proceedings –
“Ye wee devil, said Mrs McCosh, “ye micht hev had us a burned where we sat, and it Christmas too!”

Christmas Book Advent Calendar: ‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple

‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple

Today’s Christmas book theme is that of spending an idyllic family Christmas. Is there such a thing? Read on and see …

Many of us know and love Dorothy Whipple’s classic tale of scheming and the disintegration of a very happy family life in ‘Someone at a Distance’ but there is a very lovely chapter devoted to Christmas time which I’d like to talk about today.

This particular Christmastime has all the ingredients for a perfectly, perfect, cozy, intimate Christmas celebration. One should mention the family of course at this point – and who they consist of. The family consists of Avery and Ellen, their two children, Anne and Hugh. Invited to the feast are Avery’s mother and her French companion – a young girl called Louise. A close family friend and work associate of Avery’s, John Bennet, is the remaining link in the close knit family circle.

“Anne was busy decorating the house. Holly caught at every sleeve. Tinsel dripped. Lights were so draped with coloured paper that one could hardly read.”

The house is brilliantly bedecked in festive decoration, commandeered by the enthusiasm of young Anne. She also is in charge of making toffee and ice-cream, although her Mother despairs with the younger generation’s tendencies for using substitute ingredients (cornflour, sugar and margarine) instead of real cream.

Ellen has the task of preparing Christmas dinner for so many people all by herself, in the absence of helpful hands from her daily helps. The social change is hinted at in this telling line :-

“She laughed at herself for being surprised, still after all the social changes that people like Miss Beasley and Mrs Pretty, and now Miss Daley, should prefer to amuse themselves rather than help her.”

So Ellen is rushed off her feet.

Christmas morning is spent being woken up very early by excited children opening presents, in going to church. There are snowy fields and there’s a particularly lovely description of the church graveyard cherub’s heads being highlighted with the fresh fall of snow. The snow outside illuminates the interior of the church with a bright glow and village neighbours whisper good wishes to one another.

In the evening, house guests gather for Christmas dinner. John Bennet brings spooling gifts for Ellen.

Over delicious turkey, Ellen asks Louise how Christmas Day is celebrated in France and Louise replies that it is a feast of the Church and that English celebrations seem more Germanic in nature to her.

Carol singers arrive in the evening and Ellen telephones her family and some old, lonely friends in her selfless way.

John Bennet, sleeping in the spare bedroom, echoes everyone’s thoughts – could there be luckier person than Avery North, with his beautiful family life.

The Christmas chapter in ‘Someone at a Distance’ is idyllic in the extreme.

Christmas Book Advent Calendar : A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux

‘A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux’

This is the first in a series of my Christmas book advent Calendar, describing some especially festive moments of a few favourite books.

Today’s chosen book, has the theme of a spooky, eerie and magical Christmas.

‘A Christmas Card’ by Paul Theroux is a short Christmas novella set in the countryside of the east coast of the USA. Paul Theroux was himself born in Medford, Massachusetts and the snowy scenes and cold climate described in the book are indeed evocative of that part of the world during wintertime.

The story is told through the eyes of a young boy called Marcel. One year, Marcel’s father returns from working abroad in Asia and it is his idea to spend Christmas in the solitary country house, deep in the woods that the family has recently acquired. The small family consisting of Father, Mother, Marcel and his little brother Louis, set out early one winter morning from their warm apartment in the city, towards the wilderness of the woods along the coast. They drive all day and as evening and darkness approaches and they are stuck in a heavy snowstorm, Father realises that he is lost.

The family seek shelter for the night in an old, rambling looking mansion – what they presume to be a hotel and the owner, an old man in a crooked hat and black cape shows them the old treasures paintings in his house and the next morning just disappears.

He does, however, leave them a Christmas card on the mantelpiece that young Marcel believes has magical powers. The card provides them with magical bursts of light, guides them and has a will of its own …

As opposed to a cosy Christmas tale, ‘A Christmas Card’ by Paul Theroux is a bit of a spooky, eerie Christmas tale. If you enjoy a hint of magic and the supernatural during Christmas time, then this might be the ideal novella for you. The perfect length to read over an afternoon, with a mince pie and a hot chocolate to hand.

Let me know of your favourite books to read during Christmas.

‘The Love Child’ by Edith Olivier

‘The Love Child’ by Edith Olivier, British Library Women Writers Series

‘The Love Child’ by Edith Olivier is a fascinating novel, half steeped in reality, half steeped in fancy and flights of imagination that will captivate the reader from start to finish.

Published in 1927, this book is another product of the interwar years, a story centred around a lonely, single woman, a ‘surplus’ woman of the Great War- who is left quite, quite alone in the world after the death of her Mother.

The depth of Agatha Bodenham’s loneliness is so deep, she remembers an imaginary playfellow from her youth, a young girl called Clarissa and thinks about her constantly and the make-believe games they used to play. One night, Agatha dreams of Clarissa and the dream feels most real and offers Agatha some respite from her loneliness. But slowly and surely, Clarissa visits Agatha during the day time and little Clarissa gains more life-like qualities.

Worried about what the servants might think of the sudden appearance of this strange child, Agatha flees to live in a hotel in Brighton for a few months. There given the peace and solitude needed to live happily with Clarissa without scrutiny, the young girl turns slowly but surely into a girl with real flesh and bones and human characteristics, observable by fellow guests at the hotel.

On returning to her home, Agatha introduce Clarissa to the servants in her house as her adopted daughter, a young girl belonging to their extended family who has recently been orphaned. The servants and neighbours accept this fact without demur, pleased to find their mistress with a renewed interest in life.

Life is blissful for Agatha. She and Clarissa live a beautiful life, constantly in each other’s company, playing games and reading books and preoccupying themselves with all those activities that Agatha had been denied as a child herself.

And then one day, a neighbourhood policeman demands to know details of Clarissa’s parentage and threatens to take her away to the Workhouse if facts are not furnished. Agatha in her despair tells a lie and describes Clarissa as being her ‘love-child’ – a fact that embarrasses the policeman but succeeds in silencing him.

Clarissa is now secure in sight of the law, and no one can take her away from Agatha. But as Clarissa grows up and finds interests, pursuits and friends of her own, Agatha is thrown into a constant tumult of jealousy and frenzy and Clarissa’s existence is jeopardised once more.

‘The Love Child’ is one of those rare novels where realism mingles with fantasy and whimsy and the whole is rendered quite believable. What is most interesting to observe are the forms that Clarissa takes – how she waxes and wanes between imagination and real existence, how her life blood ebbs and flows in perfect harmony with Agatha’s most inner and tender emotions.

I enjoyed watching Clarissa’s gradual appearance in Agatha’s life. I was astounded at the way in which she achieved human form and was gradually recognised by others and it was interesting to watch the interplay between Clarissa and Agatha.

It was also very interesting to witness the fact that Agatha would rather heap ignominy and shame on herself by referring to Clarissa as her ‘love-child’, at a time when illegitimacy was severely shunned in society, rather than lose the child altogether. There is a gnawing sense of loving and wanting to be loved, a need to nurture that pervades the book and haunts the reader.

‘The Love Child’ may start out as a novel about loneliness but mostly it is a novel that centres on possessiveness – the idea of controlling and being consumed by a relationship, barring all outsiders. And Clarissa is undoubtably the projection of Agatha’s psyche, a person not to be shared by others.

What happens to Clarissa? Does Agatha have her happy ending? You will need to read the story for yourself to find out. The writing is very good, the storytelling compelling and original. A page turning novel that will keep you guessing right down to the last word.

I was sent this book as a review copy from the publisher but as usual, all opinions are my own.

‘Sally on the Rocks’ by Winifred Boggs

Sally on the Rocks by Winifred Boggs

I’m writing this review of ‘Sally on the Rocks’ as part of the British Library Women Writers Series Blog Tour. I’ve been sent a review copy of the book but all opinions expressed about the book are my own.


‘Sally on the Rocks’ is the story of Miss Sally Lunton’s attempts to secure a husband for herself, to ward off future financial insecurity- in an attempt to prevent herself being flung ‘on the rocks’, as such. On the surface, it sounds like a mercenary tale but it is based on a unique social situation, which affected a whole generation of women, maimed by their inability to either earn a living or marry- due to so many men fighting and perishing at the Front, in the Great War of 1914.


Miss Salome Lunton or Sally Lunton is on the rocks. She is single, 31 years old and without means of income in war-struck Paris of 1915. The bohemian lifestyle that was supported by Sally’s dubious painting career is no longer viable. Sally, hence, returns to her place of comfort and shelter – to the small village of Little Crampton under the care of her elderly guardian of sorts – Reverend Adam Loveday. Reverend Loveday is old and ailing, his days are numbered and Sally realises that she must marry and marry well to secure a comfortable future for herself.


A letter from neighbourhood gossip and busybody, Miss Maggie Hopkins, reveals that an eligible bachelor has arrived on the scene of Little Crampton, by the name of Mr. Alfred Bingley. A pompous, self-absorbed, portly man, Mr Bingley, is the new bank manager of the village and already a young widow, by the name of Mrs Dalton has set her cap for him.
Sally and Mrs Dalton both vie for Mr Bingley’s affections. The whole village watches the ongoing attempts to woo Mr Bingley and the question is who will win Alfred Bingley’s heart?


Mr Bingley in the meantime is ruled by his deceased Mother’s ‘Book’. A holy book of sorts, it is a book written by his Mother with all sorts of lessons, insights and quotations to guide Mr Bingley in securing a suitable bride. Whenever, Mr Bingley falls into a predicament, he consults ‘The Book’ and the Book delivers the most astute observations. It is both ridiculous and funny. Mr Bingley is only Mr Bingley in name. He reminded me ever so much of Mr Collins of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ fame in parts.


While this charming love triangle battle is being waged there are more love interests for Sally. As you can tell, the book is full of incident. An old flame from Sally’s past, comes into an inheritance and comes to reside in Little Crampton. This man’s appearance and his connection with Sally, arouses the interest of interfering Miss Maggie Hopkins and she threatens to reveal secrets from Sally’s past that might lead to a compromising situation for Sally. Another wounded and mentally disturbed war veteran also enters Sally’s life and she endeavours to help him recover from his mental and physical wounds. Life is not without excitement in Little Crampton and ‘Sally on the Rocks’ makes for an entertaining read.


Even though the bare bones of the story are serious, the storyline of ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is delightfully light and funny. Filled with the most absurd characters and peppered with satire, Miss Austen would have approved of many of the well drawn characters from Little Crampton in ‘Sally on the Rocks’. Certainly, Mr Alfred Bingley is a nod to ‘Pride and Prejudice’; Little Crampton bears resemblance to Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’.

‘Sally on the Rocks’ was published in 1915 when the First World War was still being waged and when the full extent of the war was not yet known. The men of the village are hence absent and the women are superfluous and yet without means of earning a livelihood. There is a hint of the hardship and atrocities of war from the narrative of Robert Kantyre, the wounded soldier from the Front. But mostly ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is a novel about the people who were left behind at home. A whole generation of women who were on the brink of great change. They would not only suffer the great hardship of losing loved ones, they would also have to accept social change and a different way of life. As seen in this novel, many women would have to brave a new life and seek opportunities with their menfolk, sometimes on a new continent. It was a time of immense change and more than anything else, ‘Sally on the Rocks’ spoke to me of such upheaval, new horizons, hard work and fresh opportunities. Poised on the precipice of great change, ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is the tale of Sally and many women of her generation.

‘The Rector’s Daughter’ by F.M. Mayor

‘The Rector’s Daughter’ by F.M. Mayor

‘The Rector’s Daughter – A Classic Story About Love and Loss

I recently finished reading FM Mayor’s classic novel – ‘The Rector’s Daughter’, recently published by Persephone Books.

It was such a poignant read that it is taking me a few days to mentally recover from reading about poor Mary’s life. Recover from reading about the depths and constancy of her love, devotion and emotions. Her deep-rooted devotion to her Father and the man that she loved with her heart and soul.

The ‘Rector’s Daughter’ is about Mary Jocelyn’s life. She is, as stated in the title of the novel – the current Rector of Dedmayne’s daughter. Dedmayne, a rural backwater in the eastern counties of England, is a place where nothing much ever happens. The Rector, is a stern, scholarly, authoritative figure – often appearing to live for only himself, with little care to the emotional needs and wants of his middle aged daughter. The house is a solitary one. In it reside the old Rector and his daughter Mary and an invalid sister – Ruth, whom Mary nurses with great devotion. The grown up sons have all flown far from the family nest – trying to flee from the pervading sense of academia and religiosity that the Rector emanates. It is left to Mary to look after her feeble needy sister and her stern father – and she does these things with all her heart. Nevertheless, there are times when Mary longs for love and children and a home and life of her own. She experiences moments of resentment – when she realises she has not been given the freedom to seek out a life partner and lead a life outside of the Rectory.

Mary is thirty five years old when she meets the love of her life – a scholarly man, similar in this aspect to her Father – a man called Robert Herbert who becomes a close friend of the family. With Robert, Mary discovers an intelligent mind, a passion for reading and their friendship gradually develops into a very deep love – which consumes Mary in ways, she had not thought previously possible. As with all other things in life, Mary loves Robert passionately and in her mind contemplates a life with him, filled with love and light and family. But what happens to Mary is a fate too cruel to behold and as a reader we share Mary’s feelings of dismay and disappointment.

Apart from the central plot, there were many details of the story that I enjoyed. Most of all the descriptions of the quiet life that Mary led – not completely devoid of pleasure. The books she read and her enjoyment of the passing of the seasons. There’s a particular paragraph that describes the books Mary enjoyed :

“Mary liked the long Dedmayne winter evenings. In October, as regularly as the leaves fell, she began the winter habit of reading her favourite novels for an hour before dinner, finding in Trollope, Miss Yonge, Miss Austen, and Mrs Gaskell friends so dear and familiar that they peopled her loneliness.”

Mary had a firm, lifelong friendship with her childhood friend Dora – a spinster like herself and it was Dora who visited Mary, especially in times of need and loneliness. Interspersed throughout the novel are descriptions of the small pleasures in living in the countryside and the appreciation of nature and the turning of the seasons.

“A robin flew up to greet them; a toad crawled forth and squatted on the path, turning his bright eyes to Mary while she talked to him… Mary and Dora stopped to look through the gap in the hedge at the view beyond, quiet, domestic, English scenery – a pond, meadows, and elm trees. These are the solace of the lonely in the country.”

The reason why I think that the narrative of ‘The Rector’s Daughter’ is so powerful is perhaps due to the fact that the reader deeply sympathises with poor Mary’s plight. To discuss her life and plight would reveal too many aspects of the plot – so it is difficult to discuss in great detail.

The feeling of pity for Mary is completely overpowering. Even though Mary never complained of her lot in life and never demanded pity. This characteristic of Mary’s personality, for me, added greatly to the poignancy of the book.

I will end with these lines :

“Such was Mary’s life. As the years passed on, the invalid’s room became more and more her world. Sometimes she felt the neighbourhood, the village, even her father, becoming like shadows. In the whole she was happy. She did not question the destiny life brought her. People spoke pityingly of her, but she did not feel she required pity.”

Persephone Books kindly sent me a press copy of ‘The Rector’s Daughter’ for review, but as always, all opinions are my own.

The Bookshop on the Quay by Patricia Lynch

Bookshop on the Quay by Patricia Lynch

The Bookshop on the Quay’ by Patricia Lynch was a book find that I picked up serendipitously at a used book fair a couple of years ago. 

I was immediately drawn to the title – who can resist a book with ‘Bookshop’ in its title and it’s beautiful, atmospheric cover design. 

‘The Bookshop on the Quay’ certainly didn’t disappoint. The story is set in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950’s. The tale opens in the living room of the ‘Four Masters Bookshop’ situated on Ormond Quay in Dublin. It is a dark and cold autumn evening, the kind of evening that makes you thankful to be indoors, beside a cracking fire, in a cozy living room. Inside the living room are the bookseller – Eugene O’Clery, his wide, two children – son Patrick and nine year old Bridgie, a cat called Mog and Bridgie’s beloved rag doll called Migeen. The Widow Flanagan, housekeeper to the O’Clery’s presided over the evening meal and the O’Clery’s are eating their meal, some of them with books propped up against milk jugs – enjoying the treasure of books in their bookshop. 

There is a cruel east wind blowing in from Dublin Bay and Bridgie who is looking out of the window, spies a forlorn, waif-like young boy who is staring at a copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ that is displayed in the bookshop window. The young boy is Shane Madden, who has embarked on a trail of discovery, all the way from Ballylicky, near the Cork Road. The O’Clery’s find out that the orphan boy is searching for his beloved Uncle Tim, a drover, who Shane has reason to believe has visited Dublin recently. 

The kind O’Clery’s feel sorry for the young boy, so alone in the world and offer him a warm meal and a place to stay for the night. They learn about his fondness for books – in particular ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, which Uncle Tim had once given Shane as a present. 

There are various trails that point in the direction of Uncle Tim but many of them lead to disappointment. Whilst Shane is looking for his Uncle, the O’Clery’s decide to give Shane a job as shop boy in their bookshop – a job that Shane loves and cherishes. Despite the tribulations Shane faces in looking for his Uncle, he finds new purpose to his life and finds great satisfaction and happiness with the O’Clerys. 

This is a lovely book filled with examples of genuine human kindness. The O’Clery’s are the loveliest people. They are a good example that bookish people are often the most empathetic. 

Some of the things I loved about this book :-

Firstly, the setting. One developed a sense of the Dublin streets and the people, how they lived and worked in the big city. Another thing I absolutely loved was the sense of Autumn that pervaded the book. Especially the opening scene, where the family are gathered cozily together inside against the cruel Autumn wind – is especially evocative. There’s a particular chapter dedicated to Halloween and how the neighbourhood children dress up and celebrate the festival. 

Mrs O’Clery was a favourite character. One got a sense that she was a trifle absentminded and forever reading her book and knitting and perhaps not paying attention to domestic details. Mr O’Clery wit his penchant for buying old, vintage books and not having the heart to sell them or part with them- was another very lovable and funny character. I could identify with this trait of his. 

‘Bookshop on the Quay’ was a fantastic, atmospheric, bookish read. A perfect book for Autumn too. I hope you can find a copy of this elusive, forgotten Puffin Classic, which I think should be better known. 

Still Life by Richard Cobb

Still Life by Richard Cobb

*My experience of reading Richard Cobb’s ‘Still Life’ published by @foxedquarterly *

Historian Richard Cobb’s memoir about growing up in Tunbridge Wells in the 1920’s and ‘30’s and thereafter feels very much like a miniaturist painting – only transmuted to book form. 

For as the dextrous miniaturist painter adds infinitesmal detail to his work of art, so too has the author added layer upon layer of minute detail of his retelling of childhood.

As a reader, this has a few challenges. Some of the details might seem excessive at first or unnecessary, but in retrospect it is those details that render the painting or work so full of depth and it can ultimately feel quite rewarding. Cobb doesn’t write solely about important noteworthy people and events. His pen sweeps in every aspect of every person and place that his young person encountered, in the most quotidian detail. Mostly, as a young and sensitive boy he seeks reassurance in the continuity of things. Be that the presence of a town person walking on the common, or of the presence and unchanging aspect of Tunbridge Wells itself. 

Cobb’s family moved to Tunbridge Wells when he was four i.e in 1921. His family consisted of his father an ex serviceman in the Sudan Civil Service, his mother, with a penchant for playing bridge at the Ladies’ Bridge Club and his elder sister. 

Though Cobb’s mother seems to have a slightly snobbish character, enjoying her Club activities and being sensible of her middle class friends there, there was an absence of such class related sensibilities in Cobb’s personal narrative. This is why, we learn about all types of people who lived in Tunbridge Wells. Cobb leaves no-one out. No person is too lowly, no incident is too ordinary to prevent it being mentioned. 

In the early chapters, Cobb with the thoroughness of the historian goes into great depth regarding the geographical approach to Tunbridge Wells. Don’t be deterred by the minute details however, the later chapters relate incidents related to his mother and father, his assortment of relatives, some of them quite unusual – residing in Tunbridge Wells, how the Second World War affected (it didn’t affect) the towns people and more. 

An interesting chapter was that describing the Limbury-Buses – relations of the Cobb’s – who lead an extraordinarily insulated life, even during the war, not allowing any of their daily routines to be upset or any outside news to penetrate to the interior of the house.

I came away knowing about a place that I had never known before. I felt that perhaps I knew Royal Tunbridge Wells better than many places I had actually been before. Now that’s quite a feat of writing for you. 

I’d however, recommend this book for the reader who has an interest in small, exacting details. If you delight in the minutiae of a place and it’s people – then this memoir is for you. 

I was sent this book as a press copy from the folks at Slightly Foxed but all impressions are entirely my own.

‘Little Boy Lost’ by Marghanita Laski

‘Little Boy Lost’ by Marghanita Laski

It’s hard to pen this review without revealing certain details of its plot. The following review may contain some spoilers. If this may affect your future enjoyment of the book – I would come back to my review after reading the book. 

Late last night I finished Marghanita Laski’s poignant and soul searching novel ‘Little Boy Lost’ published by Persephone Books.

Once in a while, there comes a book that is so much more than the series of events it retells. Some stories have the power to evoke major existential questions, deal with emotions so raw and that lie so heavy on the heart, that the novel becomes deeply psychological and grapples with the character’s inner conundrums and dilemmas, inviting the reader to take part in the discussion. ‘Little Boy Lost’ is just such a book. 

Before the Second World War, English poet and writer Hilary Wainwright meets Lisa, a Polish girl who becomes the love of his life. Subsequent to their marriage, World War 2 strikes and the pair are torn apart – each to their own war related undercover activities. Hilary works as a British agent and Lisa is involved with the Resistance in Paris.

Lisa gives birth to a child, a son who Hilary manages to see for one day – the day after he is born and the very day before the Germans occupy Paris. And then Lisa’s ruse is discovered, the child is smuggled away to a friend for safety and the chaos of war ensues. 

In the enfolding terror and panic surrounding the War, Hilary’s small family is torn apart. He hears from Lisa, one last time. In her letter she fears for her safety and that of her child and pleads to Hilary, to come and rescue the child, keep him safe, in the event of something happening to her. And then the inevitable happens… Lisa is discovered. 

On Christmas Day 1943, Hilary is alone in London celebrating Christmas with his Mother and sister. A Frenchman, a friend of Lisa’s turns up on his doorstep and tells him that his son has disappeared without trace. 

“It was only then that Hilary fully realised that his son was lost. Since Lisa’s death he had ceaselessly dreamed that he would one day find happiness with a child who was not yet an imagined person but only a surviving symbol of his and Lisa’s love.”

‘Little Boy Lost’ charters Hilary’s rocky road to searching for his lost son, three years after he goes missing. There are certain tenuous clues, a possible candidate- a little boy who might be his son. But the trail is very difficult to trace, the child is merely a five year old with little or no memory of his past life, having been separated from his mother at the age of two.

However, Hilary is struck with the moral dilemma of not wanting to open himself up to vulnerability, of loving and losing again … And though many points favour the fact that young Jean (the orphanage boy in question) may be his son, there is no instant recognition, no facts that absolutely determine that the boy is his, at least to Hilary’s doubtful mind. 

Set in post-war France, in Paris and an obscure provincial town blaster beyond recognition in northern France, ‘Little Boy Lost’ is also a depiction of the mass destruction that ravaged France and what it was like to live in France at such a time. The images that Laski evokes are haunting to say the least.

“This street curved away so that only its beginning could be seen from the square. He rounded the curve, and then found a wilderness of desolation. Save for a roofless church higher for the contrast of emptiness, there was not a building standing for half a mile in every direction. Red bricks and grey bricks, roof tiles and stucco, reinforced concrete spouting thick rusty wires, all lay huddled in destruction. Nothing seemed to have been cleared away save what was necessary to allow a few tracks to pass through, it was ruin more complete and desolate than Hilary had ever seen.”

‘Little Boy Lost’ is a book about ideals, about personal freedom and the search for happiness. It is a book tinged with poignancy but there are glimmers of hope tucked away in its pages. The innocence of the young child, his pleasure in simple pleasures and objects and his happiness in experiencing them – is joyful. 

I loved this book so much. From start to finish it was perfectly penned. And the ending still gives me the shivers …