To read Rosemary Sutcliff is to discover what reading is good for

… The Shining Compan(1990) … (is)  a vintage volume, the work of a writer who has a distinctive view of her readers, a view which many may not know that they can have of themselves. To read Rosemary Sutcliff is to discover what reading is good for.

…. this accomplishment make me ask what might be the contemporary appeal or, more simply, the enduring attraction of the historical novels for the young. After all, much has clearly changed in children’s books and reading since television became their more immediate storyteller, and novelists, now more matey and informal, adopted a more elliptical vernacular prose, in which the readers’ ease is more visible than the challenge to read.But, given her isolation, Rosemary Sutcliff needs her readers. Like her characters they people her world, so she devises means of coming close to them and drawing them into the worlds she makes out of the dark places in history.

Sometimes the trick is a first-person narrative: `I am – I was – Prosper, second son to Gerontius, lord of three cantrefs between Nant Ffrancon and the sea.’ Or there’s a dedication, `For all four houses of Hilsea Modern Girls’ School, Portsmouth (my school) who adopted me like a battleship or a regimental goat.’ The first page swings the characters into action in a situation as clear as a television image. The names of the people and places set the rules of belonging; the relations between the sexes are formally arrayed; the battles are long and fierce. Readers who are unaccustomed to the building up of suspense in poised sentences may need a helping hand. Again, the best way into a Sutcliff narrative, a kind of initiation, is to hear it read aloud. Then you know what the author means when she says she tells her tales `from the inside’.

Source: Margaret Meek in Books for Keeps, Issue 64Reproduced with permission.

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