A Stranger at Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve always had a messy relationship with the Green Knowe stories. They’ve appealed to me less than I suspect their components ought. In other words a mysterious story set in a strange house in the English countryside should have been my absolute jam and yet hasn’t ever. I’ve tried The Children of Green Knowe several times now and failed to launch. Resolutely. Intensely. Might I even call it a bit dull? I might. But then, there’s a lot here that doesn’t appeal to me underneath the surface. Magic’s never really been my bag in children’s stories. Occasionally it can be, in the hands of say a Joan Aiken or Eva Ibbotson, but mostly it’s not. Magic just feels like a slight dodge. Don’t even start me on The Box Of Delights.
And so, you might be surprised to see that I picked up A Stranger At Green Knowe at all. I know I was, but it was the illustrations that caught my eye. That slender, determined line. The eyes of Hanno looking out from the page. Those isolated, clean, powerful moments. Peter Boston’s work here is remarkable, dancing as it does between raw intimacy and intense power. He made me go back to Green Knowe and I am glad he did for A Stranger At Green Knowe is something else. It’s the sort of book I want to refer to in every proposal for a project for now on, because I just want to say ‘I want my work to feel like that moment just after you finish reading A Stranger At Green Knowe’.
Much of that moment is driven by the tone of A Stranger At Green Knowe. It’s not unusual for a children’s book to wear its heart upon its sleeve, or to make great statements of intent from the get-go. Somebody like Katherine Rundell has this great gift of giving you the blueprint of a story from page one, spilling out sensation and richness from the first page, before letting you actually discover what happens. And that’s what A Stranger At Green Knowe does. It gives you that texture, that richness, of what it will be from the very start.
This book does not shy away from what it is. It is magic, but it is found and real and vital magic, and it is unsustainable magic and it is magic that hurts as much as it gives. There’s a message here of love and tolerance and acceptance, but there’s also something more. You learn that the impossible simply cannot be. Nothing lasts forever. Every bubble bursts. Even the one about Green Knowe. That doesn’t take away the magic of what can be held within; rather, it asks you to look again at it. To savour that moment. To live.
I will go back to this series again, and it is all because of this book and its beautiful tragic heart.
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A Stranger At Green Knowe by L. M. Boston
A Stranger at Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
10 thoughts on “A Stranger At Green Knowe by L. M. Boston”
Now I want to re-read A Stranger at Green Knowe!
I’m interested, how old were you when you first read Children of Green Knowe?
Does not liking magic in children’s books extend to timeslip books? I think at least half of the children’s books I read and loved as a child in the 1970s had magic in them – timeslips, ghosts, magical cats, or other types of magic, by Penelope Lively, Joan Aiken, Patricia Wrightson, Alan Garner, E. Nesbitt, and others…
I liked The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights as a child, but haven’t re-read them, so I’ve no idea what I’d think of them now.
This is so interesting, thank you! I can cope with time-slip books if the character work is enough to distract me (something like Charlotte Sometimes, and Tom’s Midnight Garden being prime examples of this). It’s not a hard and fast rule by any means, but it is one of those sticky areas for me.
With regards to the first reading of Children of Green Knowe, I think I’d probably have been in my teens somewhere? I know I tried again a couple of years ago, and it still didn’t kick. But then again, neither did Susan Cooper for a long while until suddenly *boom* she was everything 🙂
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? How our feelings about an author or a book can change so much over time…
Yes! I call it the “I used to think Anne From the Famous Five Was The Worst But Now I Realise She Is The Absolute Best” syndrome 😉
Distance makes the heart grow fonder … or less enamoured, more, er, distant? I’ve not yet fallen under the spell (and I use the phrase tentatively) of Green Knowe because I’ve yet to read the books, though they’ve been recommended to me several times. Hmmm.
Masefield’s ‘The Midnight Folk’ and ‘The Box of Delights’ I’m planning to reread soon. I found them rich in ideas, but felt cheated by the it-was-all-a-dream premise. But then that was the premise of the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, was it not?
Magic generally is a hard one. I’m a bit of a sceptic so it has to be well done to be convincing for me, I can’t bear whimsical or inconsistent magical theory… 😁
I would absolutely love to hear what you think of the Green Knowe books! Let me know if you take the leap 🙂