Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Little Lower than the Angels - Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine McCaughrean's A Little Lower than the Angels won the Whitbread Children's Book Award in 1987. The book is set in the plague years of the Middle Ages (1348-49) when the Mystery Plays were a common form of entertainment and religious instruction. Gabriel is an itinerant stonemason's apprentice; he's 11 years old and has lots of long blond hair. As a consequence his bullying master often takes the mickey out of him, describing him as looking like a girl. One day when Mason, Gabriel and his fellow apprentice, Squit, are working on a church, a group of Mystery players arrives to give a performance, and Mason and his apprentices are obliged to stop work as the play cannot be heard of the sound of their hammering; Gabriel watches the play in awe and wonder. Afterwards, the Mason decides Gabriel's hair needs cutting, and when Gabriel cries out against this, having promised his mother never to cut his hair, someone overhears and Gabriel takes advantage of the interruption to run away. Finding his way blocked by the dallying audience from the Mystery Play, he takes refuge in the pageant (the wagon that's used for performances). The Players discover him but agree to smuggle hiim away, and Gabriel finds himself in the role of the Angel Gabriel. Garvey, the leader of the Company takes full advantage of Gabriel's angelic good looks and stages a miracle. News of the miracle precedes the Company and they find themselves in receipt of great wealth, but then a new man joins the Company of Players, and Gabriel finds himself in a difficult situation.

Whilst I enjoyed this book, I didn't find it as gripping as McCaughrean's The Stones are Hatching or The White Darkness; Gabriel is a less interesting character than either Phelim Green or Sym Wates; I know Sym's a few years older than Gabriel, but Phelim is the same age. I never really felt I got to know Gabriel very well, as I did with Phelim.

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