Tuesday 14 August 2012

The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull

I first read this book when I was thirteen.

It's about a lonely little boy, seven-year-old Tolly, who comes to live with his great-grandmother, Mrs Oldknow, in her ancient family manor house.  There, from time to time, he encounters the ghosts of three children who lived there in the past.  Tolly longs to know these children, to be included in their games and secrets, but he can never be sure when they will appear.  Gradually, his great-grandmother reveals their stories to him, and Tolly comes to feel that he too belongs.

What I loved when I first read this book, and still do, was that trio of elusive, ghostly children: Toby, Alexander and Linnet.  Toby has a horse named Feste, whose presence still haunts the stables.  Alexander plays the flute and sings like an angel - and snippets of old songs occur throughout the story.  Linnet can tame wild animals and birds.  And it all takes place in an old house and a garden full of statues, pools and topiary, transformed by snow at Christmas.

The atmosphere is mysterious and magical - yet sometimes frightening.  The house seems alive.  The rooms are dark, with strange carvings.  Outside, in the garden, is a guardian statue, the St Christopher.  And there is the tree known as Green Noah, which seems to embody evil.  My son, who read this book when he was about nine, says he found it enjoyably scary.

At heart this is a story of desire and longing for something just out of reach.  Here is Tolly in Feste's stall: "He crouched there trying to imagine that the stall was occupied by the warm silky body of a horse, feet stamping in straw, hindquarters fidgeting, tail swishing, and a great rolling black eye that could see backward and forward at the same time, half covered by mane and forelock.  He tried so passionately to imagine it, to see, hear and smell it, that the wonder is that no horse was there."

This is a classic story that no child should miss.



Emma Barnes said...

It's been a while since I read it, but I too remember the eeriness, the mysterious feel and also the sense of place. It's set in the Fens, isn't it - maybe Cambridgeshire? I seem to recall Tolly travelling to the house through the flooded countryside at night...already a sense of isolation, danger and possible magic. A lovely review for a lovely book.

griselda heppel said...

I loved the Green Knowe books. Rereading this one recently I was struck by the fact that very little actually happens but the mysterious, half-scary, half-poignant atmosphere is what makes it such a powerful story. I went to see the Manor at Hemmingford Grey where Lucy Boston lived and set the stories - the most exciting house, not just for the Green Knowe books (traces of which you see all round the house and topiary garden) but for its own history (the oldest surviving house in the UK apparently, dating back to Norman times), Lucy Boston's patchwork quilts and the extraordinary story of her life there during the war, giving gramophone concerts to airmen stationed nearby.

Yukino Jass said...

My Assignment is to read the book of Green knowe -______-
but i'm too lazy to do it :/ ang ginawa ko nag hanap ako sa Internet kung mayroon bang buod (summary) ang aklat na binigay saken ng aking guro.
english language :v so i have to read and understand it.
sa tingin ko magiging interesado kung mababasa ko ang buong aklat ng Green knowe ...

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