One of the pleasure of having children is the excuse to read children’s books. There are some wonderful contemporary ones, but the one I want to write about today was published in 1958, so it is one I could have read as a child – and how I wish I had.
I first read Philippa Pearce’s book some years ago as an adult, and have just reread it in the 50th anniversary edition.
Tom’s brother has measles and Tom is sent to stay with his childless aunt and uncle in the Fens. Some of the charm of the book for me is its setting, similar to that of my own novels, but there is much, much more to it than that. Restless and lonely, lying awake at night, Tom hears the grandfather clock in the hall strike thirteen. He goes down and opens the back door to find, instead of dustbins and an alley way, the midnight garden, in fact the garden of the house in the 1890s before the house was turned into flats. There he finds the friend that he needs in a little girl, Hatty. The door that opens into another world is a staple on children’s literature, but this isn’t the fantasy world of Narnia. It is one that is rooted in historical reality and so vividly realised that I could find my way round that garden myself. It is, too, a meditation on time and memory and change. At the same time it is intensely gripping. I won’t spoil the end for anyone who hasn’t read it, but it must be one of the most moving in all children’s literature. The book is a true masterpiece.