12 January 2012

Limits to Anglophilia

I’m happy to acknowledge my Anglophilia, but even I found the Anglophilia in Jane Louise Curry’s The Bassumtyte Treasure over the top.

It’s not just ordinary Anglophilia, even. It’s all about the aristocracy, indeed the old aristocracy that remained loyal to Catholicism and Mary, Queen of Scots. The book asks us to root for the aristocratic Bassumtyte family to keep their big house and grounds and servants in the 1970s.

Since it would be awkward to delve into how that wealth was accumulated in previous centuries, or the value of the public services that the tax revenue is now funding, Curry instead embodies that threat as an off-stage villain who’s eager to buy a house. And wouldn’t you know, he’s an Arab prince with lots and lots of money. Arabian aristocracy isn’t so appealing as English.

As with The Lost Farm, Curry starts with a young protagonist—in this case, ten-year-old Tommy Bassumtyte—and his problems—suddenly being sent from New Hampshire to England. The opening chapters are firmly and consistently in his point of view.

But the story doesn’t stick with Tommy. By the second half of the book, the point of view is shifting suddenly among him, his older cousin, an aged ancestor, and other adults as need be. Though Tommy plays a part in the unfolding plot, just as often he’s standing aside as adults do things. And the book’s language doesn’t seem particularly kid-friendly, even for young Anglophiles:
Old Sir Thomas’s plan for the Tudor garden consisted of [a] planting diagram in which each box tree was indicated by a small circle representing its trunk and, on following pages, a series of elevations and one perfectly round tree drawn separately like a lollipop on a short, thick stick. The elevations were side views which showed a long expanse of severe, flat-topped hedge surmounted at each corner and at the pathway opening by a leafy ball. Unlike the present arrangement (or as much as could be judged of it in its shaggy state), on only one of the four sides was there an opening through the outer ledge. Through it could be seen a sketchy representation of another, inner hedge.
Finally, the book is a mix of fantasy and mystery without being really satisfactory as either. As a fantasy it’s timid, with three short visits of a ghost and one peek through time. As a mystery it relies on those fantasy-aided insights rather than rational thinking to reveal crucial details.

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