I had not heard of D. E. Stevenson until a few years ago. I’ve seen her name mentioned favorably, but had never felt inclined to check our her books. But then Hope‘s mention of Amberwell led me to try it.
Amberwell is the name of the house owned by multiple descendants of the Ayrton family in Scotland. The residents in this book have five children, two boys from a previous marriage and three girls. The parents are aloof, authoritarian, and imperious. The children are kept in the nursery much longer than usual, and the parents don’t attempt to get to know them well.
But the children are allowed to roam free on the estate, and spend most of their time outdoors playing all sorts of imaginative games.
The next section of the story jumps ahead ten years. The two boys are in the service during WWII. One daughter has married, one’s whereabouts are unknown, and one is left to keep things together on the home front. Each faces their own struggles and heartaches.
Amberwell falls into disrepair due to shortages of supplies and manpower. But it draws each of the children back like a beacon.
It took me two or three chapters to get into the story, but once I did, I loved it. The last third or so of the book, I wanted to set everything else aside and just read.
At first I wondered if this was a children’s book, not only because the children were the main characters, but also because the writing seemed simple. But by the next section, the writing and the plot shifted into a higher gear.
There was one odd place where one of the girls witnessed something untoward from their father, but nothing was ever said about it again.
I listened to the audiobook read exceptionally well by Leslie Mackie. She has a lovely, soft Scottish accent but could bring out the brogue with some characters. That’s one advantage to audiobooks: I don’t usually think in the accent of the characters when I’m reading, unless the dialect is written well. But hearing a whole book set in Scotland with a Scottish accent really added to the enjoyment.
I’m delighted to have discovered D. E. Stevenson, and now I have a whole list of her books to explore. In fact, I’ve already started on the sequel to Amberwell, Summerhills.
I’m counting this book for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge under the Classic About a Family category.