No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, July 01, 1998

A Song for Summer -- Eva Ibbotson

By the same Eva Ibbotson who wrote the delightful Which Witch? for children. I hadn't realised that she also wrote adult novels: when I picked one up in the bookshop, it looked like any other faintly literate romance. I was delighted to find that (a) the sense of humour is still there, matured but unwarped (b) they may be romances, but they're firmly rooted in well-rounded lives (c) the two I've read so far – the other was Madensky Square – have featured music as an essential plot element.

A Song for Summer is the tale of a girl, Ellen, raised by her suffragette aunts who, despite their best efforts, enjoys 'feminine' activities such as gardening and cooking. She emigrates and finds a job looking after problem children in a Swiss school run on 'advanced' principles. (One of her first achievements is to persuade a couple of the girls that they don't have to swim nude: there is nothing wrong with wearing a bathing costume). She meets the mysterious Marek, who is working as a handyman and knows how to gets storks to nest. Meanwhile, the Second World War starts: Marek's mysterious past comes to light: he, and a couple of the pupils, travel to England and end up interned on the Isle of Man as enemy aliens: and the happy ending is not as undiluted as one might have expected. Plenty of surprises, intriguingly flawed characters, and a diva who lives up to the legend.