I know I have often been a little… erm, not sneery exactly but slightly nonplussed by people heading either to children’s classics or to young adult fiction now and again, apart from Harry Potter of course. I am now quite prepared to eat my words because one of the books that seems to have given a rather annoying period of multiple reading block the heave-ho is a children’s classic from the 1970’s, Nina Bawden’s novel ‘Carries War’. This book was just the ticket for an undemanding read that has a lot going on in it. Am I making sense, I do hope so.
‘Carrie’s War’ is set in, you guessed it, the second world war when Carrie Willow and her brother Nick are evacuated to Wales and into the lives of Mr Evans and his sister Louise, who likes to be called ‘Auntie Lou’. Now you would think that this would be a delightful household and indeed when it is just ‘Auntie Lou’ and the children times are quite happy. However as Nick describes him ‘Mr Evans is an OGRE’. A difficult and often bullying man who likes everything just so and who slowly but surely makes Carrie and Nick’s lives a less than happy one (not that they are fearful of him) apart from when they reach the sanctuary of ‘Druid’s Bottom’.
Druid’s Bottom is actually the home of Mr Evans estranged sister Mrs Dilys Gotobed (I loved Nina Bawdens choice of names for people and places) her carer Hepzibah Green, who people believe is a witch, and the young Mr Johnny a boy with what we would now call cerebral palsy though people call him ‘simple’ at the time. It is also the home of one of the other evacuated children Albert Sandwich who becomes and unlikely friend to both Carrie and Nick. Druids Bottom also holds a legend of the screaming skull which Hepzibah keeps in the house. As time goes on Carrie is unwittingly drawn into almost spying for Mr Evans on his sister Mrs Gotobed and does something terrible, possibly the worst thing she ever did in her life!
Naturally I am not going to tell you what is it or you wouldn’t read the book. Mind you having said that I would imagine most people have read this book already and so I am probably really behind everyone else in actually getting around to reading it. I think this is a book a lot of children now study at school and rightly so because it’s a really rather enjoyable book for an adult and I would imagine it would be for a child, though as there isn’t really any magic, more myth, or any vampires maybe I am wrong? What has happened to the simple tales of old that people used to write for children, or am I merely just showing my age?
I was charmed by Nina Bawden’s story telling, her plotting and also her characters in this novel. I thought her perceptions of the war, the unknown and the good and the bad from the perspective of Carrie and her brother were incredibly well written, yet for some reason I never quite gelled with Carrie herself. I couldn’t always understand her motives be they wrong or right, intentional or not however that didn’t stop me from really enjoying this as a read. 7/10
I am now keen to read some of her adult literature such as ‘The Lost Man Booker’ nominated ‘The Birds On The Trees’. Have you read any of her adult fiction? Any thoughts on ‘Carrie’s War’ or any of her other younger fiction? I think I could have been missing out on a rather wonderful storytelling author for quite some time!