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The Hollow Land, by Jane Gardam

In The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam the Cumbrian Fells provide the setting for the adventures of two young lads, Bell Teesdale who is eight years old at the start of the book and Harry Bateman, some years younger. In a series of short stories (I saw them as chapters when I read the book) spanning 20 years we witness a lifelong friendship form between Bell the local Cumbrian farmer’s son and Harry the London city boy. How they ‘meet’ remains magical in my memory – through a crumpled letter and their astute cleverness.

Their families, who get off on the wrong foot, subsequently find they have things in common which outweigh their differences, and the Batemans become part of the community. The book is about community and about loyalty, and preserving what makes a place special.  Harry, who has a particular bond with Light Trees, the house his family is renting, and with the Cumbrian landscape, finds himself in some Bell-initiated scrapes –  being trapped in a disused mine, no less (shades of Tom Sawyer here) and lost in a blizzard when Bell takes him off on an ‘icicle ride’. These adventures and other memorable encounters are wrapped in Jane Gardam’s ability to paint pictures, vivid pictures, of the countryside. The simplest thing is given its full due.  As in her other writing, not a single sentence is superfluous, and the tone is lighthearted, amusing and informative.

New words, new myths and legends for me and a chance to learn some Cumbrian dialect. Enthralled, I read The Hollow Land quickly – a tendency of mine. Thus satisfied I decided to reread the book to savour the language, the nature of the fells and the characters. I would happily read it again.

In preparing this review and recommendation, for Jane Gardam, I learned she has written 59 books (I’ve only just begun) and has received 13 awards. Our library puts this book (published in 1981) in the adult section, though it could also be classified under children’s books – a book to be enjoyed by all ages.

I was personally reminded of childhood in Pittenweem when you were out of the house free to wander up the country, down the beach, along the braes – what a privilege. If you haven’t read any Jane Gardam this book would be an excellent beginning. Funnily enough I heard only a few days ago of someone who read it and didn’t like it. One man’s meat  . . .

Reviewed by a library member.