The Gift Boat
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Dickinson has written many longer, more complex and ambitious books than The Gift Boat, but even by his exalted standards this little story is a masterpiece. One chapter excepted, the writing is simple enough to be easily readable by quite young readers, yet not a word is out of place. Everything is exact, essential and marvellously right. In more ways than one, this is Dickinson's equivalent of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Gavin, just under 11, lives at Stonehaven on the Scottish coast. His father is a merchant seaman, and his mother and grandmother both work, so Gavin spends much out-of-school time with Gandad. They go fishing, and when a seal appears unexpectedly in the harbour, Grandad tells Gavin about the seal people or selkies. Grandad's other serious occupation in retirement is making model boats. Not just any old model boats, but collector's items. He has all but finished a fishing smack for Gavin's birthday. Gavin has just decided to name it Selkie when Grandad has a major stroke. Most of the book concerns Gavin's desperate missions to the hospital to talk to Grandad, read to him, do anything to reach his illness-clouded mind and call him back. At last he enlists the selkie's aid, offering in return his greatest sacrifice, his boat. Nearly everything that happens then can be explained rationally, but this is a story about mysterious borderlands, between natural and supernatural as well as young and old, life and death, vision and dream. The chapter where Gavin risks his own mind in his dangerous search for Grandad's is a tour de force, as simple as Dickinson can make it but still difficult. Some children may need a bit of help. If so, it will prove amply worth the effort. This is a gripping, moving, life-enhancing story, the work of a major writer at his very best.