Although a recent review of Jane Gardam’s The Hollow Land promised a new paperback version of her children’s book, I found the 1981 hardback in my library. I was rewarded with a picture of a young Gardam on the back cover – quite different from the recent pictures I’ve seen of the 86-year-old, but still familiar.
The pages are yellowed and spotted, but the stories are as wonderful as Meg Wolitzer promised in her New York Times review.
In 1981, Gardam had already been nominated for the Booker Prize, had written three novels, and four children’s books. The Hollow Land won the Whitbread prize and her Old Filth, the book that led to her rediscovery in America, was decades in the future.
The nine stories center around the friendship of two boys, Harry Bateman, a city dweller from London and Bell Teasdale, from the Cumbria hillside where the book gets it name. Harry’s family rents a summer house on the Teasdale farm. From the beginning, the differences between the city and country cultures almost stop the action with a misunderstanding between the families. But the mothers resolve the issue, and the beat goes on. Secret hideaways, scary tall-tales around the fire, and daily adventures connect the stories, yet the down-home flavor of the dialogue and the British colloquialisms can be daunting and sometimes interrupt the action. But this is Jane Gardam, and for readers who stick with the stories, Gardam beautifully reveals the world through the eyes of a child,
Related Review: New York Times Review of The Hollow Land