Thursday, June 7, 2012
June Book Pick -- The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter
Roo Fanshaw likes to hide, and she has very good reason. Just as Mary Lennox becomes an orphan at the start of The Secret Garden, Roo also loses her parents suddenly and violently, to a murder that occurs in her trailer home while she is hiding beneath it. Like Mary Lennox, Roo is unlikable, and Ellen Potter does an outstanding job of creating sympathy for and emotional identity with her to compensate for this disadvantage. Since Roo has spent so much time under the trailer lately, while her family life disintegrated, she has made friends of tiny living things and likes to put her ear to the earth and listen to the life inside it.
Roo is shipped off to a wealthy uncle -- her father's brother -- who she didn't know existed (counterpart to The Secret Garden's Mr. Craven) and picked up for the journey by the acerbic Ms. Valentine (Mrs. Medlock). The uncle's mansion, a former TB sanitarium for children, is on an island somewhere in New England that the locals call Cough Rock. There, Roo meets Violet (Martha), is forbidden to go into the east wing, spends a lot of time puttering around by herself, meets a mysterious boy named Jack who has an uncanny connection to animals (Dickon), and finally, hearing horrible screams, goes to the east wing where she meets her unruly, sickly, bad-tempered cousin Philip (Colin). And, she takes an accidental trip down the body chute that had been used to remove TB victims during the building's days as a hospital, and discovers the secret garden, walled up and neglected after her uncle and Philip suffered the death of their wife and mother.
First Roo, then Roo and Jack, and finally the threesome of Roo, Jack, and Philip bring the garden, and themselves, back to life.
The Humming Room succeeds on all levels, and it does so, I was surprised to find, in a mere 182 pages. I was dimly aware, all the while I was reading, that this book was so much shorter than I would have guessed, yet the pace was never rushed. Beautiful language, convincing emotions, just lovely. Highly recommended.