25/09/2007

The Castle on the Hill (by Elizabeth Goudge)

It's years since I last read this book, one of my teenage favourites. It's long out of print now, but often available at charity shops or online places like Amazon UK which have a second-hand section.

Elizabeth Goudge's books are gentle, character-driven stories which I find I have to read deliberately slowly, or I miss a great deal of her observations. 'The Castle on the Hill' is about Miss Brown, who is forty-ish, and has lost her home and livelihood in World War II. She comes across Jo Isaacson, who is fifty-ish, a Jewish refugee, a brilliant violinst, and almost suicidal.

Then there are the delightful sisters with the unlikely names of Moppet and Poppet, aged six and four, who are Cockney children brought up very 'nicely', and who adore the story of Peter Rabbit.

These diverse characters and others are brought together by the historian Mr Birley, who lives in a small castle in Torhaven with two great-nephews. They all find peace and a haven from their fears and worries; yet there is still some violence in their lives: bereavement and tragedy, as was almost commonplace during the war.

The characterisation is very good, as always with this author's work. The story is long-winded in places, but the descriptions are good. I found it compulsive reading once I had got past the first couple of chapters: it was clear that horrors were going to occur, yet they were so sensitively handled that I found myself with a tear in my eye rather than feeling disgust of any sort.

Hope for the future is given despite present difficulties and tragedies; the ending was very encouraging on the whole. Recommended.

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