Book review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The desire to reread books from my youth came to me suddenly. I recalled vague snippets of a plot. Children. A mean-spirited governess (fourth cousin once removed). Adventure. I needed to track down Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Aiken’s 1962 book is a delightful read, even as an adult. Memories came back as I reread the adventures of Bonnie, Sylvia, and Simon. I remembered the outlines of the plot, but I turned each page wondering how the story progressed from point A to point B. But what really surprised me was the writing.

Although a book aimed at children (7-12 years of age), the prose is written with a complexity that I don’t typically associate with children’s literature, or even adult literature today. I found myself encountering time and time again a word that I was unfamiliar with or hadn’t seen for ages: oubliette, chatelaine, reticule, portmanteau, posset, wolds. The context provided enough hints that I could easily read over these words, or conversely, I could delve into the dictionary for deeper insights about the words.

Granted, many of these words were from times past and aren’t ones that I would necessarily use or encounter again (“I’ll be sure to secure my portmanteau so that it doesn’t fall from the overhead compartment.”), but they provided a richness to the story and an understanding of the time period described (England in the 19th century).

Rereading Aiken’s book only encouraged my passing fancy with children’s literature from the 1960s and 1970s. Next up the sequel: Black Hearts at Battersea.

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