This wasn’t what I was expecting, and I wonder why the title was changed from the original “Linnets and Valerians”. “The Runaways” made it sound like an adventure book in which a group of children are on the run for months and have all sorts of adventures. Instead, our group of four siblings, two girls and two boys, ran away from their grandma’s house but, within a couple of hours or so, ended up at their uncle’s house, and went to live with him instead! However, it was still fairly eventful, and it was a good read.
It was a strange mixture of the practical and everyday, of standard children’s adventure stuff, and of the fantastical. A lot of the time was spent doing lessons, going for walks, picking strawberries and taking tea with the local lady of the manor (whose husband and son were both missing, presumed dead, the husband in Egypt and the son in a childhood accident on the moors, but it was fairly obvious from early on that they’d reappear safe and well). There was also a bit of standard children’s adventure stuff – getting lost, falling into pits – although no-one was ever lost for long, and no-one was ever in any real danger. And then there was fantastical – bees being the protectors of humans, cats seeming to turn into monsters, and, the key to it all, a mysterious old lady having cast a spell over the local village and several of its inhabitants. Of course, in the end, the spells were lifted, and everyone lived happily after! But the combination of the everyday and the fantastical was unusual.
And the uncle commented that rain was sent in order to encourage intellectual activity, and that, as a result, the best brains were to be found in the wettest parts of the country. This was a very interesting observation 🙂 .
What else? The book was set in Devon, in 1912. The children’s mother had died, and they’d been brought home from India by their father to live with their grandma. Their father was in Egypt, on his way to rejoin his regiment in India, but for some reason he stayed in Egypt, which didn’t make much sense. He eventually met up with the long-lost squire, but the squire would probably have been there in the 1880s, which made sense. Why the dad never seemed to make it back to India didn’t! There was no real mention of anything going on beyond the village they were in and its surroundings, though. And, strangely, we were told in an epilogue about how the children’s lives panned out, with no mention – even though the book was published in 1964 – of either world war. It was a very Edwardian book, with the characters very much in their own little world.
I loved the descriptions of the countryside, the village, and the gardens at the two homes where much of the action took place – the uncle’s home (he was a vicar, but lived in what I assume was his private home rather than the vicarage) and the manor.
Also, with home schooling much in the news at the moment, it was quite interesting how the uncle educated all the children. They only seemed to work in the mornings, and most of what they learnt seem to be either classical education (the uncle was rather obsessed with ancient Greece) or Bible verses, and the idea was that the boys would eventually go to boarding school but the girls wouldn’t. 1912 seemed a bit late for those kinds of ideas, but then we’re talking about “gentlefolk” in a rural area. Why do vicars in books do so little work, though?! He did write sermons, but, when not educating the children, he spent most of his time working on one of those great scholarly tomes which bachelor uncles in books are always writing. Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice seemed to spend most of his time either gardening or visiting the de Bourghs!
Not much happened at the manor, either, but that was explained by the lady of the manor being in permanent mourning for her husband and son. Until the children came along, she only saw her monkey (why are there so many monkeys in children’s books?!) and her servant/butler, Moses (full name Moses Glory Glory Alleluja), who came from an unspecified part of Africa. He was treated with respect, but we were told that the squire bought him at a slave market. The children were horrified by the fact that Moses had been sold as a slave, but no-one seemed to query what the squire was doing at a slave market. However, it was a reminder of how long slavery went on in some areas. It’s easy just to have it in your head that slavery was abolished across the British Empire in 1833/1834, and in the US in 1863/1865, and not think about how long it went on in Brazil, parts of Africa, and elsewhere.
I wouldn’t say that this was one of the best books I’ve ever read, but, for a 99p Kindle download, it certainly wasn’t bad!