A Stitch in Time

As an only child, Maria can have intelligent conversations with her parents and other adults, and can quietly and respectfully spend time by herself, but a summer vacation at a Victorian house by the sea when she is ten years old becomes the key to opening up not only new adventures but also her own possibilities.  In A Stitch in Time, British author Penelope Lively captures that magical time between childhood and young adulthood that offers child-like adventures and the promise of becoming grown up.

With careful attention to describing the old house and its surroundings, Lively creates the sense of being in the lovely British countryside.  Maria narrates through her thoughts and anxieties as she quietly converses with the cat.  When she meets her first real friend, Martin, she manages to emerge from her solitude to engage with his rowdy family of brothers and sisters, discovering her interest in fossils and maps, and changing from a frightened lonely girl to one who learns how to have fun.

Although the story proceeds slowly, episodes of strange sounds and visions that only Maria can experience – the sound of a barking dog, the creaking of an old swing – tease you into wondering if this is a ghost story.  Lively maintains the suspense with Harriet, a ten-year old girl who lived in the house over one hundred years before.  After finding the sampler with the swing and dog included in the art, that was finished by Harriet’s sister, Maria begins to imagine Harriet’s life and death at a young age.  Harriet seems to come to life within Maria when she swings, and, at times, Maria thinks she can see the other girl.   The ending includes a tense episode on a seaside cliff that solves the mystery but leaves the door open to interpretation.

A Stitch in Time is one of Penelope Lively’s older books targeted for a younger audience.  The pace is slow but calming.   The story is available as an audiobook, and it seems the perfect candidate for listening – for children or adults who need to remember the child within.

“…in a funny way we {adult and child} both go on being here forever, aged ten or eleven one summer, because we once were…”

Lively is a prolific writer with an elegant Old World style; winner of the Man Booker prize in 1987 for Moon Tiger, she has a new book I am looking forward to reading – this one for adults.