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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Words on Wednesday: Review of Paper Wings by Linda Sargent

A beautifully written tale of childhood innocence for this week's Words on Wednesday.

Title: Paper Wings
Author: Linda Sargent
Publisher: Omnes
Published: Feb 2010

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says:
A Kentish woodland; hot, endless days of summer; a strange and touching friendship...

Ruby and Peter think of the woods as their own: a place for adventure, for plans and projects, for secrets. But when Ruby is hurt in an accident, they find that a stranger is hiding there: Gabriel, a man haunted by wartime guilt and by the loss of ideals. Soon an alliance is formed - but others are watching, and the children unwittingly provoke long-held resentments, bringing themselves and Gabriel into danger.

Atmospheric and beautifully-realised, Paper Wings is a grown-up story about childhood, bringing innocence and experience into dramatic conflict.

My verdict: A novel which is quietly crafted with plenty of intrigue.
A lot of the power in this gentle book lies in the unsaid, the merely-hinted-at, and that (for me) is what makes this an adult read. It's not inappropriate for children in any way, but it is likely to go over their heads. This largely results from the child's-eye-view adopted for the bulk of the novel.

The narration is in the third person, but hugs a specific character's viewpoint at any one time. The shifts in narrative perspective are clear and flagged by scene titles such as 'in the woods' to avoid confusion. This allows Sargent to 'zoom in close' and really immerse us in the characters' experience, which sometimes allows us to read the situation differently from the child characters, or at least to understand a little more about some events and actions.

The story itself is gentle and nostalgic (another reason the book is more likely to appeal to adults), with lots of detail to transport us to its environment. The language is not by any means impenetrably old-fashioned or contrived, but it does avoid contemporary usage and contributes to the overall sense of a story which is very rooted in its time and place. The hops growers based setting was not familiar to me, so I enjoyed the vividness of Sargent's descriptions and the use of different senses to take me there. There is inherent mystery to the plot, with the shadowy and haunted figure of Gabriel hiding in the woods, and there are unexpected twists and turns.

Overall, I found this a charming read which, while exciting, has a gentleness which befits its post-war countryside setting. I've chosen to post this as a 'words on Wednesday' piece as I feel the book is representative of a high degree of craft, especially in terms of narration and understatement. Readers like to have some work to do to get inside a story, and this book is a great example of avoiding the impulse to over-explain.

Thanks go to the author for kindly providing a copy for review. As Linda Sargent is a British author, this is my seventeenth review for the British Books Challenge hosted by the lovely Bookette.

1 comment:

  1. Your review makes this sound like a book I'd like to read - a bit different from my usual favourites involving some sort of paranormal or fantasy. Thanks for the recommendation.


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