Natasha Farrant says Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is ‘everything I wish I’d written and would love to write’.
Journey to the River Sea is storytelling at its most traditional, but to me it feels fearless. Oh, I don’t mean radical or controversial or boundary breaking. I mean fearless in its joyful unfettering of imagination, in its unleashing of emotion, its homely wisdom. Ibbotson gives us the Amazon jungle, parrots, hibiscus flowers, alligators (not crocodiles), comedic detectives, intrepid explorers, kindly Indians, soulful Russians, English aristocrats, a ghastly step-family to rival any in Dahl. She gives us not one orphan, but three. “People make their own worlds,” the governess Miss Minton tells us. “I think children must lead big lives… if it is in them to do so.”
Ibbotson’s flights of imagination go beyond the improbable. Her emotional excesses fringe sentimentality. Her wise pronouncements, in a lesser writer, would irritate, but she was never a lesser writer. Beneath the exuberance, her novels are ruthlessly structured, their natural warmth counterbalanced by a wicked sense of humour. Journey to the River Sea makes me laugh and sob and want to run away to Brazil to have an adventure. You can’t ask for much more from a book.
Journey to the River Sea (978-1447265689) by Eva Ibbotson is published by Macmillan Children’s Books at £6.99 pbk.
Natasha Farrant’s latest book, Flora in Love: The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby (978-0571297979) is published by Faber and Faber at £6.99 pbk. It is longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.