Saturday, 15 January 2011

Having so much enjoyed London Belongs To Me, I couldn't resist buying a secondhand copy of Norman Collins' slightly later (1951) novel Children of the Archbishop. Alas, this time without the enviable dust jacket.
This is the story of the Archbishop Bodkin Hospital, an orphanage in Putney and it begins in 1920 on the night a baby is left on the doorstep. Four years later Sweetie has settled in nicely and we start getting to know the other inmates and governors. There's kindly Canon Mallow, the Warden, who is about to retire and who has been lifted shamelessly from Trollope.
There's disciplinarian Dr Trump, the new Warden, who isn't entirely bad; he doesn't spare the cane but his real problem is that he doesn't understand children.
There's Dame Eleanor - chairman of the Board of Governors: 'It was from her grandfather, the Admiral, that Dame Eleanor had inherited that particular glance of hers ... And it was as though deliberately to avoid any possible misunderstanding that she allowed herself to wear so ostentatiously feminine a hat. Small, veiled and frivolous, it was perched on the neat white hair, like a butterfly resting on a spent flower.'
Then there's Dame Eleanor's housemaid-companion, Margaret, a ramshackle cast of teachers and - most importantly - there's Ginger, the orphan who captures Sweetie's heart.
So I began with high hopes that I was going to bond with all these people as I bonded with the inmates of Ten Dulcimer Street in the earlier book. (Hard to believe that London Belongs To Me was the earlier book, it's so much more accomplished ... but you can see why it's a Penguin classic and this one is more or less forgotten.)
It's an enjoyable read. But it's all too easy to guess the mystery of Sweetie's parentage and the characters didn't really come alive for me. Garn ... but that Ginger is an urchin wiv a 'eart of gold straight from central casting wot talks wiv a Cockney accent like this.
So, not bad ... but not up to my very high expectations of Norman Collins.


Darlene said...

Oh that is too bad, Mary. He did set the bar quite high with London Belongs to Me didn't he.

mary said...

You might enjoy it anyway, Darlene if you fancied something undemanding - but it's not in the same class. What a shame!