I reported on Christmas Eve, that Philippa Pearce had passed away. At the time, I had only read and reviewed one of her books - the very charming, A Dog So Small, which I read and loved as a child (despite being a cat lover!). I'm waiting for Pearce's classic novel Tom's Midnight Garden to be available, but in the meantime, I borrowed Minnow on the Say on the recommendation of David Langford (in his award winning Ansible ezine).
Minnow on the Say isn't fantasy - it's the tale of a treasure hunt, set in 1930s England when David Moss, the middle child of a bus driver and a housewife, finds a lovely, if badly neglected canoe bumping up again his father's landing stage the River Say is swollen by rain. He desperately wants to keep the canoe, but his father urges him to find the owner, who turns out to be Adam Codling. Adam's the last of the now-impoverished Codling family who have occupied the banks of the Say for centuries. The only way that the Codling estate can be saved (and Adam avoid being sent to relatives in Birmingham), is if he and his new friend, David, can find the family treasure that a Codling ancestor hid during the late 16th century, just before the Spanish Armada set sail. The boys have only a single clue, a four-line poem, and their canoe, which David has named the Minnow. They spend the summer holiday on the treasure hunt, covering a lot of the local countryside. The book also covers a lot of territory: poverty, mourning, greed, the nature of marriage and of friendship, class relations, village life, and more.
However, you shouldn't read this book expecting misty nostalgia. Pearce's love of village and river life shines through the prose - she grew up on the River Cam in the village of Great Shelford near Cambridge - but so does her experience of the London Blitz and the trauma of World War II. You might never read a more painful account of the ravages of mourning as those scenes in which Adam’s grandfather, whose only son was killed during the Great War, fails to remember that his son is long dead and the boy who shares his home is actually his grandson. Adam's mother died shortly after giving birth to Adam, her own grief for her husband was as strong as her father-in-law's, so Adam has been brought up by his Aunt Dinah. She is a strong character but resigned to the fate that seems about to befall the last of the Codlings, since the treasure has never been found.
This is a lovely book that manages to maintain the suspense through 26 leisurely chapters - I highly recommend Minnow on the Say.