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A combination of untoward circumstances put a family of five naive English children pretty much on their own- their mother hospitalized- in a strange inn in a village on the Marne. The eldest sister, Joss, who is sixteen and beginning to be aware of her own effect on the opposite sex, is also ill, so the role of the children is set by the younger ones. They are sponsored, more or less, by a mysterious Englishman, Eliot, who comes and goes; they are endured by the two women who run the inn, Zizi, who is striving to hold on to Eliot and her vanishing youth- and Madame Corbet, who is violently jealous of Eliot's attentions to Zizi; they are accepted resignedly by the staff, including the orphan boy, Paul, who is a bit resentful; and they are usually ignored by the guests. Wholly unexpectedly they become the vortex of mysterious activities, mounting tension, and violent eruption at the end. And throughout, the events are seen through the children's eyes --and some of the implications are barely suggested to the aware adult reader. Mixed loyalties, the rigid judgments of childhood, the inexplicable complications arising out of jealousy, and the brooding mystery involving Eliot combine to make a story that has infinitely more complexity than the surface telling suggests. Some will quarrel with the betrayals at the end; all readers will appreciate the deft handling of budding adolescence; nobody can read the story and remain emotionally untouched. And yet, for this reader- a long time admirer of Rumer Godden in her many phases- this stems back to the mood and tension of Breakfast with the Nikolides (1942) rather than the gentler quality of her most popular book, An Episode of Sparrows.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1958
ISBN: 1408499762
Publisher: Viking