by Mace, Elisabeth
pub. by Andre Deutsch Ltd , London, UK, 1975 - isbn; 0-233-96656-0 LCCN = 140 pages
This is a work of fiction set in a bleak post apocalyptic future in England and Scotland. The first third of the book is a rough read. It sets up the setting for the action part which occurs in the last two thirds of the book. It starts out with a boy, Leven (short for eleven as they are only known as numbers and get names later in life) and his mentally challenged older brother Thirty at a boarding school. Upon graduation they are sent out to a distant worksite, in their case a slate mine. There they are to learn to be adults and perhaps be given a name. Leven meets up with a number of others and learns the hard facts of life. The overseer is a large robust and mildly cruel man. The co-workers are a mixed group. The living conditions are meager. One of the people at the mine is a half daft girl, Susanna who discovered an abandoned house, and in that house a copy of Arthur Ransomes book Swallowdale. Reading that book opens up a incomprehensible world of children who do things other than work, and have choice in their activities. She also learns some practical skills from the book. A girl and her young sister who have runaway from further south arrive and are hidden and helped. Then after a mine disaster Leven, Thirty, Susanna, and the young girl runaway to the north...to a mythical Colony where people are nicer and life may be easier. The young girl wants to go to what is to her a real, but perhaps mythical Scotland. They travel, have adventures of a hunted group, and each arrives at a moderately satisfactory conclusion, but still living in the dire apocalyptic world.
Nowhere in the story is it revealed what happened to cause life to be reduced from previous civilization to what appears to be an almost immediate post medieval life. There are ruins all about. There is barter trade for necessities and small groups producing necessities including food and such things as slate building materials. The content of the education at the schools is not mentioned, but must have been limited to literacy and basic arithmetic. Little is taught/known about geography or history.
This tale was probably meant to illustrate how Arthur Ransome put enough practical knowledge into his Swallowdale that it could be practically used to improve conditions and broaden the knowledge of a reading person who had little knowledge. It is a tough read through the first third of the book, but improves later. There are some incongruities such as having a motor powered boat... but the society as a whole not seemingly having the wherewithal to produce either gasoline or diesel fuel... or for that matter produce advanced machinery. Puzzling. If you want to read everything about or influenced by Arthur Ransome, this is another book for you.
The book jacket notes that there is a sequal entitled The travelling man and indeed I see that such a book was published in 1976.
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