Pollyooly: a romance of long felt wants and the red haired girl who filled them

October 19, 2010

For the past couple of days I’ve had the name “Pollyooly” stuck in my head. Hopefully now that I’ve finished the book, it will go away. Even if it doesn’t, though, it might have been worth it.

I’m theorizing, on pretty much no basis, that there are three kind of people who write about children: those who think they understand kids, those who understand kids a little bit, and those who know that they don’t understand them at all. The second kind is the best, in general, and the first is usually pretty bad. But there’s something to be said for the people who know that they don’t know, and that’s the category that Edgar Jepson falls into.

Not that Pollyooly is a children’s book, really. But it does center around a child, and Pollyooly, age 12, is a lovely kind of fictional child, smart and serious and essentially unfathomable, but not above making funny faces at people when the situation calls for it. She is also, as Jepson is fond of reminding us, an “angel child” — the only part of her appearance that is not completely and traditionally angelic is her red hair.

Pollyooly (also known as Mary Bride) and her brother the Lump (also known as Roger) are left alone in the world after the death of their great-aunt Hannah Bride, and, having promised her aunt that she won’t let the Lump end up in a workhouse, Pollyooly sets out to earn money. Soon she is installed as the resident housekeeper of the Honorable John Ruffin (a position of great dignity and respectability) and the owner of a rapidly growing bank account. With Ruffin’s rooms in the Temple as a launching pad, she embarks on a series of increasingly unlikely adventures, each of which increases the sum of money that stands between the Lump and the workhouse. We’re also introduced to a number of other characters, including Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, for whom Pollyooly also cleans; the artist Hilary Vance and his boyfriendmentor Mr. James; Lady Marion Ricksborough, Pollyooly’s near-doppelganger, and the Esmeralda, a dancer.

Needless to say, the whole thing is delightful — the earlier parts are perhaps more delightful, but that’s pretty normal. And then there’s the bacon, which Pollyooly has a unique talent for grilling, and which Ruffin mentions in, I think, every story. And that’s delightful too. In fact, I can’t think of any reason not to recommend this book.

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