The Shuttle – Frances Hodgson Burnett

One thing I love about the library is that you can take out books that you would like to read but might not really buy. The one thing that can be a problem is you take out so many that you forget to read them. This happened with me last week when an email arrived with the word ‘overdue’ in the title. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem I would renew the books and pay the fine, no probs. Someone though, quite selfishly ha, had already reserved one of my books on loan ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett so I had less than 24 hours to read it. Fortunately I am having a month off and so I could, doubly fortunate as the next night was book group and I hadn’t read a page of 1984 yet.

The Shuttle is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction books. I should admit here I haven’t read any of her children’s titles either. I had picked it up purely as it was a Persephone novel and I have wanted to read as many as I can get my hands on frankly. Reading the synopsis in the book cover I wasn’t sure this was going to fare very well with me as it seemed to be about the ships that took American’s to England and vice versa in the late 1800’s. I don’t really do books with ships and so with trepidation I opened the book… and then simply couldn’t put it down.

Though there are some chapters involving ships and the description of ships not once was a bored as this book has so much more to offer it is actually a wonderful social history study and romantic mystery. Nigel Anstruthers travels to America in search of a rich American wife. He has a title and a stately home but absolutely no money, in fact he is in debts up to his eyeballs and beyond and a wife is a means to an end to that. He meets the meek and suggestible Rosalie Vanderpoel and tricks her into believing he is marrying her for love. Once across the ocean she learns that he didn’t marry her for that at all and in fact wants her money and to shut her off from the world.

On the other side of the ocean her family are mortified, but Anstruthers hasn’t counted on Rosalie’s younger and much more forthright and spirited sister Bettina wanting to find out the mystery of her sisters sudden disappearance. The novel then takes you on an epic journey as Bettina grows up and uses all the skills and knowledge she can in order to counter an attack against Anstruthers and whatever may have happened to her sister. The journey is filled with drama, adventure and a brilliant romantic storyline. I loved the evilness of both Nigel and his mother, Nigel in particular is a true villain if there ever was one. Bettina does steal the show with her gutsy determination and quick wit.

This novel really does have everything and you cannot help yourself from turning all the 600 pages in almost one sitting, I was almost unable to put the book down. Plus anyone who can name a character Ughtred is naturally going to be someone I treasure. This is unquestionably one of my very favourite books of the year, it has everything and a slight sensational feel so how could it not be, and may be one of my favourite reads of all time. If you want a book that has with mystery, adventure (in the form of a collision at sea which starts a possible romance), comedy, darkness, romance and some wonderful, wonderful characters then this is most definitely for you.

It was the fact that I loved it so, so much that it ended up making me cross because I had to give it back. Though when I am taken to the Persephone Bookshop for a treat in the next week or so it will be one of the books I instantly have to have, I do feel there will be a few of these though.

Have you read The Shuttle? Did you utterly, utterly adore it as I did? What else of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books must I read? Have you borrowed a book from the library and not wanted to give it back, if so what was it?

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40 Comments

Filed under Books of 2009, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Persephone Books, Review

40 responses to “The Shuttle – Frances Hodgson Burnett

  1. I LOVE FHB and have amassed quite a collection of her novels. Her children’s books are my favourites – I think it should be a legal requirement that EVERYONE must read The Secret Garden before they die, also A Little Princess. The Shuttle is my favourite adult FHB so far but I haven’t read them all yet! The Making of a Marchioness is gorgeous as well and that’s a Persephone too. If you love FHB you should read the Gretchen Gerzina biography of her, it’s fascinating.

    One word of warning though – Persephone…*gasp* ABRIDGED The Shuttle. If you want the real deal, you have to get an old copy. I have the copy that looks like the first image you posted, I think it is from 1909 or something like that, and not only is it a beautiful book but it’s the whole text too. I’ve read elsewhere that a whole character and plot line is cut out of Persephone’s version but I can’t confirm as I haven’t read both versions myself.

    • I had no idea that this was an abridged version, well I never. I dont feel cheated though which in some ways I think I should hahahaha. Missing a character and a plotline is most intriguing though!

      I am going to have to get The Making of a Marchioness now no questions.

  2. What a great review! The Shuttle was also my first FHB and I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I reviewed it here (this was before I had a book blog):

    http://somethingsdishy.blogspot.com/2009/08/tea-with-persephone.html

    I totally forgot about that character name, Ughtred. Unbelievable! Is that really a real name, I wonder…

  3. Am so glad to hear you loved it, as I wanted to read the Persephone.. but now that I hear from Rachel that it’s abridged.. hm. We’ll see what happens. I also have not read anything by FHB, but one of my sister’s fave books as a child was The Secret Garden.

    • I have never read any of the childhood books she wrote though I think I remember seeing the film of The Secret Garden when I was younger, it hasnt left a lasting impression though.

  4. I was shocked to learn that the Persephone edition was abridged but it certainly didn’t feel lacking for anything when I read it… Perhaps when you have your wonderful (I know it will be wonderful) visit to the shop you could ask (on behalf of us all) what was cut and why?

    I received it as a gift last Christmas, only my third Persephone at that time, and devoured it over the holiday season (with a bad bout of flu it was perfect consolation) and LOVED it. The Making of a Marchioness is lovely (quite like Miss Pettigrew) but pales in comparison to The Shuttle.

    Like Rachel I think The Secret Garden should be compulsory reading and also adore A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

    • Hahaha I could be a roving reporter for you all and find out. I think I would be too in awe in the building to speak to be honest.

      The Shuttle is more and more certainly going to be one of my all time favourites, I just want it to sit with me a little while longer. I might try The Secret Garden at some point, I always worry with old childrens classics that I will find them… well… childish I guess hahaha.

  5. fleurfisher

    I am pleased that you sailed through this so happily. I have a copy and it looks wonderful but I was a little intimidated by the length. There have been a number of books I have let the library have back reluctantly, and there are also a few books that I take out from time to time because nobody ever seems to borrow then and I don’t want them to be withdrawn. Is that reasonable?! Miss Pettigrew often looks lonely on the shelf and so she comes home to visit her sister on my shelves. I like to think that I am doing my small bit to improve the quality of library stock!

    • Honestly do not be intimidated in the slightest. The length and opening pages had me a little worried but soon I was lost in the wonderful plot and characters, it just charmed and gripped me all in one.

      I have Miss Pettigrew, The Far Cry and Someone At A Distance to be read but am gutted The Shuttle had to be given back.

  6. Your review has just persuaded me to buy a copy – which is interesting considering my post today! It was this sentence that did it:

    “This is unquestionably one of my very favourite books of the year, it has everything and a slight sensational feel so how could it not be, and may be one of my favourite reads of all time.”

    I haven’t read any FHB, but this seems like a great place to start – I hope that I enjoy it as much as you did!

    • I really hope that you enjoy it lots too Jackie. If you like sensation novels and wonderful characters, which I think you do, then you will love this its page turning too even though the plot isnt massive its definately there.

      I am pleased it made you want to buy it which in line with your post yesterday was very apt!

  7. This is one of the very few Persephone novels that I have yet to read, although I do own a copy. I am surprised to learn that it was abridged – I would be interested to know why Persephone decided to do that.

  8. Well, now I have to read it, darn you. You’ve no idea how many books I have in my TBR stack already. This sounds like fun, almost like a sensation novel, it’s too late in the 19th century to be a sensation novel, though, yes?

    Excellent review.

    • Hahahaha sorry CB… actually no I am not as this book will add joy to any book lovers life. Well hopefully it will.

      It is too late to be a sensation novel… just which is a killer as was going to pop it in the sensation season killing two birds with one stone. I think the echos of sensationalism was the added thing I loved.

  9. 600 pages in one sitting?! You are either an amazing speed reader, or you’re superman. And you don’t require food or sleep! Well I love when you so passionately endorse a book. You’ve gotten MY attention!

  10. Hi, Simon! I’ve never read a Burnett and now, after reading your review, I have it on my list of to be read for next year when I tackle the classics. I never new that Burnett actually wrote books for adults.

  11. I have the Pesephone edition in my TBR. But I am having a hard time deciding with Persephone to start with. Maybe your reivew will help me make that decision.

    But what I really want to talk about is your aversion to reading about ships. Does that mean you don’t like ships as settings for fiction, or you are bored by ship descriptions, or you don’t like ships in real life or, or, or? I am very curious. Does it extend to individual scenes like the transatlantic crossing in Brideshead Revisited, or can you take it in small doses.

    As you can tell I am fascinated by this foible of yours.

    • You do indeed as I commented on the pile of Persephones you have with utter jealousy! I would definately give this a go.

      I don’t know where this nautical aversion came from in all honesty. Maybe I was on the Titanic in a past life, who knows. I do know I just find ship based books really really bore me. This one didnt but then there was romance and adventure on the few chapters that were sea based. Maybe as you suggested with Brideshead (which I adored) if its a few scenes I dont mind.

  12. adevotedreader

    I have the Persephone of this waiting for me in my TBR pile, so am glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    I have to echo everyone else- The Secret Garden and A Little Princess are wonderful children’s books.

  13. Simon – I am going to brag here and say that it was I who persuaded Nicola Beauman to republish The Making of a Marchioness by FHB several years ago and I also urged her to do The Shuttle so I feel a sense of ownership over both these titles. I think The Shuttle is magnficient, I have read it several times and have the edition that you have picutred above. though I have the Persephone version as others have mentioned, this is abridged so read the other one. Copies are easily got. Then read Through One Administration, a real Edith Wharton type story set in Washington and also quite quite marvellous, then there is….I had better stop or I shall be here all night!

    • Well firstly Elaine I shall thank you for that as I would never have discovered such a wonderful book through FHB’s reissuing (only to have to give it back which we shall gloss over) and such a favourite.

      Secondly could you kindly persuade Nicola that she should really send me the backcatalogue… especially as I may be giving up buying books for a year in 2010 for charity hahaha. I feel your powers of persuasion are strong!

      Now in all seriousness and some shame… i have never read a Wharton. Awful arent I?

      • Ah Simon – nothing awful at all – it just means that you have hours and hours of reading bliss ahead of you. I think Edith Wharton is a truly magnificent writer and IMHO, think that The House of Mirth is her best work though Age of Innocence got the Pulitzer.

        Onceyou start them you will want to read them all and there are a lot – thank goodness.

      • Thats true I hadnt seen it like that until now. Yes I have hours and hours of delightful reading ahead of me. When my book buying ban lifts at end of November is I see any Wharton will get some.

  14. I just posted about the Shuttle and abridged books. Would be lovely if you dropped by.

  15. A Little Princess is one of my all-time favourite books…and I re-read it every few years and it still makes me cry. That said, I had no idea she wrote adult literature so I’ll have to give The Shuttle a try!

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  17. Ruellia

    The Secret Garden is a masterpiece, and beautifully written. It is very satisfying to an adult reader, and actually more complex than The Shuttle, which I loved. I thought The Shuttle had wonderful characters, suspense, and gorgeous vignettes in almost every chapter: a description of a forest in twilight, a magical description of a robin singing, a visit to an old woman in her tiny cottage, and about 20 more beautiful pieces of marvelous writing set amid the action that drives the plot.

    In The Shuttle a wealthy woman transforms the peasantry. In The Secret Garden a poor cottager and two of her children completely transform a family of very wealthy people. In The Shuttle, the gentry are intelligent and quick witted, and the lower orders are a bit dense. In the Making of the Marchioness, the servants are quick-witted, intelligent, resourceful and master strategists, and all of the gentry but one are downright dumb and helpless until their servants figure out solutions for their problems and rescue them. Poor Lady Emily is sweet but stupid, her husband has no imagination and never knows which end is up, Osborne is thick-witted and impulsive, Lady Agatha is helpless and tearful- but their servants are sharp and active and figure out solutions. FHB does not conform to any one pattern.

    Do read The Secret Garden. It is a literary triumph and a page turner, with touches of Gothic, a gorgeous chapter where “delight reigns’ and very unique characters.

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  20. Judith Judson

    I first read The Shuttle in my grandmother’s bound copies of The Century magazine which had other marvelous authors as well as illustrators such as N C Wyeth. I believe my aunt Bettina was named for Bettina van der Poel…copies of the unabridge The Shuttle can be fairly easily found in second hand bookstores or on line. Of the other Burnett I have read, yes the Secret Garden is a MUST all the screen versions should be destroyed as desecration. (Margaret O’Brien as Mary???!!!!) The Little Princess is a great mistake on Burnett’s part–the right and proper version is the much shorter first one Sara Crewe. The Little Princess goes all goopy and sentimental and that chubby treacly blonde Shirley Temple is another abomination as the thin brunette Sara. If you want a delectable adult book by Burnett try the charming T Tembarom–which has a very amusing inside joke in it by Burnett herself against herself!

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  22. Just had to pop by and leave this comment. Because of your gushing about this book on this post, I put it on my birthday list and received it – in 2010. At the time, I remember being a little disappointed that dh hadn’t ordered the Persephone edition (but as he is a procrastinator, it would have never made it across the pond in time for my birthday), but I can say I am over that now that I have finally gotten around to reading it. Finished it today, and absolutely LOVED it. And, yes, 6 years later I remembered that it was you that first put me on to it, and I just wanted to come back and say thank you! I’m going to pass it on to my dds, who I know will enjoy it. Hope all is well with you in your new job and all the activity it is bringing your way. Happy reading!

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