Minnow on the Say : Philippa Pearce

Minnow on the SayMinnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s odd to be able to describe a book as thick and dense with summer heat; a sensation somewhat removed from the cold practicality of reading the printed page, but Minnow on the Say somehow achieves that. It is a story full and dense with aching warmth and heat and slow, steady movements that occasionnally jerk into something quite sharp and brittle and tense. It is a book that reminds us just how good Pearce could be.

Set in the area around where Pearce grew up, Minnow on the Say is the story of David and Adam and their summer-soaked adventure. They are looking for treasure and, inevitably, turn out to be not alone in this task. Soon the time comes when things start to get out of control. Treasure, it seems, has an awful habit of not being very easy to find – just when you need it to be.

Pearce writes so gracefully. She’s almost stately; her text flows and ebbs and slides along the page, just doing what it needs to do at the right time, and it’s almost effortless. The first paragraph is a perfect piece of understated scene setting and I hope you’ll forgive me for repeating it here:

“David Moss lived with his family in the last house in Jubilee Row. Their house was like all the others, but their garden was something quite out of the ordinary: it ran straight back for the first twenty yards, like all the other gardens; then, when the others stopped, this took a sudden turn to the right, and in another minute, it had reached an unexpected destination. When the other gardens ended in a hedge, a fence, or a stretch of wire-netting, the Mosses’ garden was brought to a stop only by the softly flowing waters of the River Say.”

How – perfect – is that? The river, the way it practically sings with promise of adventure, the ‘out of the ordinary’ nature of the Mosses’ garden and the way that this leads you, quite perfectly, to pay attention to David who lives in this different place and is therefore, by virtue of association, something quite different himself. It’s a beautiful marker of allowing an environment – a place, space – to code you into reading the characters in a certain way.

Pearce’s writing is a slow and subtle joy. Minnow on the Say is such a classic example of the golden age of British children’s literature; it is a book which somehow seems to stand separate from its years and context to exist in a space of its own, a space that is replete with heat and excitement and the slow gentle curve of an oar into water.

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5 thoughts on “Minnow on the Say : Philippa Pearce

  1. This made me dig out my old Puffin and re-read over several slow summer days…a book to be read backwards and forwards and savoured again and again, absolutely redolent of my own seemingly endless book soaked childhood days…

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