Great Aunt Ada’s house was so far proving most unusual, and Lyla began to look forward to telling Mop all about the things that happened in it. One thing though was a little disappointing, and that was the matter of Old Alfred the armadillo not being alive. So, because she did in fact hope there might be others, she asked, ‘Are there any live armadillos in your house, Great Aunt Ada?’
‘No … oh dear, you see there’s only Old Alfred who was a very dear companion, like Solomon – very constant, very dependable. That’s what you want: constancy and dependability. These are the things you need in those you chose to love, don’t you think? No point at all in wasting time in those who are not constant in their love for you.’
The Person Lyla loved most was Mop, so she thought about Mop, and then, though she didn’t know what to make of Aunt Ada’s words, found that they were discomfiting and somehow causing her toast to stick in her mouth a little.
Lyla hasn’t seen her father for years. Not since he left Lyla’s mother, Mop. It was all over the papers when he left Mop for another woman. Now he thinks it is acceptable to kidnap Lyla in the middle of the night, and take her to Great Aunt Ada’s. Lyla won’t stand for it.
Furlongs is a strange house. Great Aunt Ada works on her inventions, while the butler Solomon keeps things ticking along. Who would feed the stuffed armadillo without Solomon? Lyla is adamant she won’t be staying long, and devises various escape plans. She volunteers Furlongs for the war effort, but her plan goes horribly wrong. Instead of filling the house with soliders, the war office send a school full of girls.
Lyla is not only stuck at Furlongs. For the first time in her life, she interacts with girls her age and goes to school. She would like to be friends with rebellious Cat, but doesn’t know how to go about it.
Lyla refuses to read her father’s letters. She wants Mop to write, wants Mop to send the presents the other mother sends. Surely Mop won’t leave Lyla at Furlongs?
A touch Eva Ibbotson, a touch Dick King-Smith. Sam Angus’s gentle prose and eccentric characters brought tears to my eyes.
Lyla is a great protagonist. She gets things wrong. We know she’s getting things wrong, but we still root for her. Lyla is so desperate for a display of affection from her mother, it is difficult not to want a happy resolution. This kept me reading. I wanted to know how Lyla would adapt to life at Furlongs.
Great Aunt Ada is the kind of eccentric aunt who only turns up in children’s fiction. Lyla needs somewhere to stay, and conveniently there is a Great Aunt who lives in a mansion. Well … you wait until you read about Furlongs. I’m all for settings which reflect the readers’ lives, but dream worthy settings have their merits. Furlongs is heavenly, with it’s strange bedrooms and homemade fireworks. And animals! A ferret here, a horse there. Angus doesn’t run away with her setting. This isn’t nostalgia for jolly-old-Britannia. Angus uses her setting to explore themes which are relevant regardless of social background.
I love Lyla and Cat’s friendship. Cat is a great character, who proves that sometimes rebels have the right ideas. Less concerned with social appearances than her peers, Cat empathises with Lyla, and never gives up on their friendship.
Lyla’s desperation for Mop’s love is handled sensitively. Lyla’s feelings take centre-stage, but Mop’s perspective opens discussion about gender-equality. Do we expect the same of mothers as fathers? Do we judge mothers and fathers equally?
The book spans six years. This is quite a time period for a short book. One advantage is the snippets of information about World War Two which are fed into the narrative. Receiving this information alongside fictional characters gives a sense of how news might have been received at the time, and how much damage had been done to communities and countries by the time it came. Father’s letters are delightful. They made me want to search out real correspondence from soldiers – although I may invest heavily in tissues before I do so.
Have you read any of Sam Angus’s work? Which of her novels should I read next? Let me know in the comments below.