THE DRIFTWAY by Penelope Lively


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As in her gripping and evocative Wild Hunt of the Ghost Hounds (KR 1972), Penelope Lively blends strongly realized ghosts of the past with a psychological study of two present day English children. Here however the events of the different periods are less synchronized and the psychology becomes a little too patly managed. At first Paul, who is consumed by his resentment of his father's new wife -- mistrusting every adult he encounters and suspecting that passing strangers are after him -- looks like a boy to watch. We meet him in a desperate mood when, accused of shoplifting, he grabs his little sister Sandra and takes off on an impetuous flight that turns into a journey to Gram's house in a rural village. The children are picked up and driven along an ancient roadway by one of those sympathetic, nonconforming old men so common of late in juvenile fiction. Old Bill, who travels and lives in a sort of covered wagon, tells Paul that the road is full of messages for those who are in a heightened enough state of mind to receive them. Paul then receives several such communications, participating as an observer in a Viking raid, a Civil War battle, an 18th-century tragi-comedy of highway robbery, and a joyful moment in the earlier life of his own grandmother. The fact that the events are unrelated to each other and that what Paul chiefly secures from their message is an empathic realization of other people's viewpoints (so that in the end he decides to make friends with his stepmother) make the whole adventure disappointingly contrived after the clear inevitability of the Wild Hunt. However, Lively's talent for summoning the past and projecting its power and for conveying the intensity of Paul's disturbance makes The Driftway a road worth taking.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1973
Publisher: Dutton