Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A delicious read, 3 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Secret Countess (Paperback)
You know those stories about people taking jobs in chocolate factories, who are allowed to eat as many chocolates as they like but get sick of it after a few days? Well, reading Eva Ibbotson's romances is like being in the factory that makes your favourite chocolates, and eating them in heaps and never getting sick, because they never stop tasting delicious. If you like romances with happy endings, they don't come any better than this.

There are so many reasons for loving these books. For a start, they are impeccably, beautifully written - not like the ugly, pretentious garbage so often turned out by fashionable children's writers these days. (The sort of thing that so often wins the Carnegie medal because the judges, God help them, seem to think that controlled illiteracy is clever.)

Secondly, they are clean. The hero and heroine may enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, but they do so poetically and discreetly - again, such a nice change from the fashionable obscenities on offer these days.

Thirdly, they are intellectually high-powered,but not ostentatiously so. The author gracefully assumes that her readers are as knowledgeable as she is herself - but it's so well done that if you don't have the knowledge it doesn't spoil the story, it just encourages you to go and look up the details. What a refreshing change from books that not only pander to young people's pig ignorance, but seem to celebrate it.

Fourthly, they are full of nice people. There are villains, of course, and there's always a ruthless rival trying to snatch away the heroine's man, but the villains always get their come-uppance and all the other characters are ... well, in their various ways, nice. In most modern children's books it's hard to find any character that isn't either fatuous or horrible or both, and this often includes the protagonists.

Fifthly, while the author doesn't shirk the fact that life and history have their dark side, she conveys the uplifting conviction that evil can't win, at least not as far as her characters are concerned. Long-lost daughters turn up safe and sound, pets survive hair-raising adventures and come back as good as new, endangered homes are saved and restored, wicked machinations are vanquished and exposed, and everybody who deserves to lives happily ever after.

OK, this is all most unrealistic. But what fiend was it who decreed that children's books (and fiction in general) can't be taken seriously unless they are brutally realistic? Real life is bad enough, without finding the same nastiness oozing out of every book you pick up. Let's all be happy, if only for the all-too-short time it takes to read this delightful book, and the other Ibbotson romances.

I've only got two quibbles. First, the original title was far better. I suppose the publisher decided that the current crop of teenage readers was too stupid to understand the term 'below stairs'. To which I would reply (1) who says they are all that stupid and (2) if they don't know what 'below stairs' means when they start, they jolly soon will.

Secondly, the paperback version, like all paperback versions of Ibbotson romances, has a picture of a girl with a flawless complexion and an expression conveying the intelligence of a mentally defective brontosaurus. Don't be put off by this. All the Ibbotson heroines are intelligent, even intellectual, and glory in the fact. And three cheers for that, say I.
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