My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Poorly written in places, intensely poignant in places, How the Heather Looks is a strange book which, in a way, taught me more about my attitude towards children’s literature rather than teaching me about it. I am, at present, engaged in a bit of a project to try and find a book for every for every county in the UK and so How The Heather Looks has a curious relevance for me right now. I’m becoming fascinated with the roots of story, in the points where the imaginary and the real world connect, and how they spiral into different and yet somehow weirdly familiar locations. And I’m fascinated with how, sometimes, when you visit the real world settings of these books, when you sit on Lyra and Will’s bench or catch sight of Ratty’s Thames out of the window, that it feels a little like you’re falling from one world into the next. That if you close your eyes, that if you hold your breath, you’re in Narnia or at Flambards or in the kitchen at the Fossils house. That’s magic to me, pure and effortless magic, and it’s a sort of intoxicating magic. It’s powerful and when you feel it, you want more of it. You just do. You can’t even help it any more.
And this book is full of magic. Bodger’s references have perhaps dated a little and her fixed (forced?) outsider perspective may occasionally grate but there are moments when you just forget all that because she gets you. She gets you in that sort of breathless way every fan of something understands, that moment when you see the thing you love in real life, that moment when you see the makers and creators and you realise that you just admire them and love them, really, that you can’t quite speak and you can’t quite exist in the real world any more. You’ve fallen through the gaps, you’re in the imaginary and there’s no way you’re going back.
Bodger’s family journey, occasionally blindly and perhaps naively, through the United Kingdom with this sort of intense wonder throughout. There are chapters which are easy to skim through, lightly, but then she falls into somehow interviewing Arthur Ransome (“What’s this?” he asked. “What’s this?”) or Mrs Milne (who, rather marvellously, berates them about the incorrect size over their teddy Piglet).
Bodger is not the best writer. But she is, at heart, a fan. A loving, obsessed, foolish, impressionable fan. And I have walked and I am walking in those shoes. This is a lovely book, (and, if I am being honest, it is one that is ripe for a modern day version).