Sunday, October 13, 2013

Return to gone-away by Elizabeth Enright

People sometimes ask me about old classic stories read during a childhood in the 1950s or 1960s. Do children today still read these books?  Well the answer is usually no either because the plot line is too slow for the modern child or because the vocabulary is too complex.

Return to gone-away was first published in 1961.  I did not read this book in my childhood but even though it has the traits I listed above - a slow meandering plot and complex vocabulary - this is a terrific book.  I loved the pace, the children, the happiness of their elderly friends and all the complex words.  Here is a description of the old houses :

"To the right lay the broad swamp, shorn by winter of its reeds; to the left stood the old houses in their neglected yards. They were a tatterdemalion lot, with shutters hanging from hinges, font steps skewed crooked, porches sagging."

Having enjoyed a summer adventure at Gone-away lake the family have now bought one of the old houses and over the next summer everyone works hard to make Villa Caprice a home.  As they work together the children strengthen their friendships with their cousin and neighbours and the house itself reveals some wonderful treasures left by the eccentric and extremely wealthy Mrs Brace-Gideon.

This is a warm old fashioned story a little like reading Enid Blyton's famous Five or Secret Seven.  Enright is brilliant at descriptions.  You can see the scene.  Here is a description of the bathroom :

"very large with two high-up diamond-shaped windows, a frieze of mildewed swans above the molding and many pictures on the wall of young ladies wearing pompadours, shirtwaists, and long skirts... The hand-basin made of Delft china, was patterned with blue carnations. Swan-necked faucets drooped above it, and on each side there was a broad slab of marble, veined and gray as Roquefort cheese."

Return to Gone-away is the second book featuring this intriguing setting of an old abandoned town and the lives of the Blake family.  I have not read Gone-away lake (Newbery Honor 1958) but I think this second book easily stands alone. You should read more about the first book here especially after reading Return to Gone-away because this excellent and very detailed review will fill in the gaps for you.  I am excited to also read that Jen Robinson (who is a prolific and famous blogger of children's books) also loves Return to Gone-away.  This book might be one to read aloud as a family each evening.

Portia herself sums up this book when she says : "Sometimes a story can open a world for you: you step into it and forget the real one that you live in.  Evidently this was such a story."

One final thing - I have put a three covers here because I think it is interesting to see how book designs change over time. Our copy is the one at the top.

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