Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Revenge of Samuel Stokes - Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively's The Revenge of Samuel Stokes is akin to her The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (review), but also different. Here the ghost is Samuel Stokes, who was a landscape gardener in the 19th century. He created Charstock Park which has now been built over and turned into a new housing estate where Tim Thornton and his family have recently arrived. However, Stokes resents the building of the housing estate and does his best to get rid of the residents via supernatural means. Walls begin sprouting up in odd places, a cedarwood greenhouse becomes a Greek temple overnight, then the estate is mysteriously flooded.

There are also odd smells, such as roast venison coming from the washing machine, and peculiar interference on the television, which seems to show a bewigged gentleman with a pipe where no such person should be. Tim and his new friend Jane Harvey, and Tim's grandfather (who has a passion for cooking) try to discover a way to placate Stokes and get him to leave Charstock.

Tim suspects that the land itself resents the presence of the housing estate:

Tim, on the other hand, was looking at the landscape. They were walking down the hill from Great Maxton to Charstock and the estate lay just below and in front of them, with the houses wheeling out from the shopping centre which was in a dip in the middle. Beyond and around were fields dotted with grazing cows and lined with trees. There were a lot of trees; some of them, Tim noticed, were neatly grouped. They seemed to have been arranged, rather than just to have grown. He though again about houses being dumped down - or mushrooming up, whichever way you looked at it - where no houses had been, ousting cows and trees or other houses or anything else that had been there before. Of course, that happened all over the place, and always had done, for ever and ever. It was interesting, when you thought about it; perhaps, occasionally, what had been there before might resent being wiped out like that. (p. 32)

Such an idea ties in with Lively's great interest in landscape history, as I mentioned in my review of The Driftway.

This is an amusing book with some interesting ideas that would be most suitable for children.

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