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Secret Water Hardcover – 1 October 1989
Frequently bought together
- Publisher : JONATHAN CAPE & BH - TRADE; 1st edition (1 October 1989)
- Language: : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0224606387
- ISBN-13 : 978-0224606387
- Dimensions : 14.5 x 3.5 x 20.3 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 354,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the Author
Arthur Ransome was born in Leeds in 1884 and went to school at Rugby. He was in Russia in 1917, and witnessed the Revolution, which he reported for the Manchester Guardian.
After escaping to Scandinavia, he settled in the Lake District with his Russian wife where, in 1929, he wrote Swallows and Amazons. And so began a writing career which has produced some of the real children's treasures of all time. In 1936 he won the first ever Carnegie Medal for his book, Pigeon Post.
Ransome died in 1967. He and his wife Evgenia lie buried in the churchyard of St Paul's Church, Rusland, in the southern Lake District.
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This story however just rambles on and on about maps and waterways and has fairly dreary character development including one boy (the Mastodon - the overuse of the name is just irritating in itself) who seems overly serious and sulky, and another trio who are fairly one dimensional. Even the main characters lack any charisma and Ransome appears to rely on their stock catchwords and phrases to lend vivacity to their personalities.
It almost seemed as if Ransome was in a particularly bad mood when he wrote this; it is heavy, humourless and dull. The characters seem as bored being there as I was reading about it.
I gave it three stars for the first chapter which captured the parents' need to be elsewhere rather energetically and eloquently. Also the use of the word 'damn' which must have been outrageous in a children's book written in the 1930s, and Roger's reaction to the First Lord of the Admiralty. There almost seems a touch of a personal view uttered in those two sentences.
Maps, mud and eels, and a human sacrifice
(Some of the general comments I made about Ransome and the Swallows and Amazons series in my review of Winter Holiday may also be of interest.)
To get the full flavour of the book go to Google Maps UK, type in Hamford Water, switch to Google Earth, and compare what you see with the completed map in Secret Water. Allowing for 75+ years of change in the coastal regions of Essex, the fit is perfect. If you crank up the magnification you will even see names that ought to have been adopted by Ransome, like the Dardanelles and the Twizzle, and one that almost was, Peewit Island has become Peewitland.
This is another excellent example of the value of absent parents. Just before a planned family holiday Commander Walker (who is rarely even in the country!) is summoned to London, so dumps the children plus a dinghy in an area of tidal salt marshes and low islands on the Essex coast, and suggests they survey and map the area. Given the overwhelming respect, almost veneration, that the Swallows have for both parents, they naturally fall to with enthusiasm. Fortunately the surveying process is enlivened then interrupted first by the unexpected arrival of their dearest friends, and then by a new band of outlaws known as the Eels. Adventures ensue, as they will. But keep your eye on the map, which in my second-hand hardback version is conveniently printed inside the front and back covers over a double page and with coloured route lines. Also keep an eye on the latest addition to the Swallows, Bridget.
In this book Ransome introduces four new characters, and promotes the ‘ship’s baby’, Bridget, to junior but active membership of the Swallows. This is the second time that we get twins (the first was in Coot Club, in which all the characters were new except Dick and Dorothea, whom we met in Winter Holiday), but this time the author seems to make even less attempt to distinguish between them, and I confess I gave up. But the leader, thanks to his original ‘home’ and his ‘splatchers’ is very clearly drawn. All of them, naturally, are excellent sailors and possess quite as much imagination as the Swallows.
Many elements are common to the earlier books, though set in a totally new environment, which is expertly and fully evoked, as it always is with Ransome, from personal experience. The children’s relations with adults, the ‘natives’, are as guarded as ever, though they do need the help of a craftsman at one point – plus, of course, the inevitable and frequent calls upon a local farmer’s wife for milk. The technical detail this time has less to do with sailing than with mapping, but the action of the tides on their temporary world of salt marshes and low-lying islands is of prime importance. In fact the tides dictate much of their scope for action, and prove to be life-threatening on one occasion.
The characters of the Swallows and Amazons run true to form, and now that Susan has a new ‘baby’ to look after she is even more maternal and ‘native’ than ever. John, as always, is preoccupied with what he ought to be doing, what his father in particular would want and expect him to do, which sometimes conflicts with his sense of adventure. Titty is still the one with bags of curiosity and imagination, and Roger thinks mostly about food. We are never told how old the children are, which is inevitable since the stories involve the same children published over a span of 17 years. But Bridget has now become ‘old enough’, as she often reminds the others, to camp with her siblings and share their adventures – she’s even at the very centre of the culmination of the inevitable ‘war’ between the Swallows and the rest.
There is enough that is familiar and enough that is new in Secret Water to satisfy established Ransome readers, but enjoyment does not depend on previous knowledge, it is an excellent book in its own right.