The Easter holidays had begun at last. Tolly bounced up and down on the seat of the railway carriage and looked out of the window.
–Lucy M Boston - The Chimneys of Green Knowe - c. 1958
Tolly has returned to Green Knowe, his great-grandmother’s house, for the Easter break. But he is disappointed to discover that something is different. The painting of his previous playmates has been sent on loan, and may have to be sold in order to finance repairs to the house. And with the painting gone so too is the presence of Toby, Linnets and their family. Soon Tolly discovers more about the other inhabitants of Green Knowe over the generations, as his great-grandmother begins to tell him the tales as she works on an old patchwork quilt.
Sometimes it seems as if Tolly meets their “presences” or ghosts, as in the previous book. And sometimes it seems as though he has travelled through time. But which it is isn’t really the important part of the book, that is the atmosphere and feel of the book.
Just as in the first one it is wonderfully written and so easy to read and slip into the world of Tolly and Susan. Even though Susan’s world is in the 1700s and Tolly is in the 1900s.
The one huge problem I had with this book is the way Jacob is described. He is a boy that Captain Oldknow encounters in the West Indies, a slave who asks the captain to buy him and prevent him being shipped off to gods know where. The Captain, of course, disagrees with the practice of slavery but it is legal and he can do nothing about it. He brings Jacob home with him where his family treat him with all the racist attitudes you can imagine at the time. It is incredibly difficult to read this without cringing. Jacob’s dialogue is utterly broken English, he believes in Juju, and is often called by the n-word.
And yet, I don’t think the book itself is racist, all the characters who make racist comments about Jacob are quite clearly the bad guys, and time and again Jacob proves himself more than capable of doing anything that any of the others can. He and Susan are the heroes5 and the majority of the other characters show their prejudices in a number of ways, always described in a negative manner.
So in the end the racism is proven wrong but it still doesn’t make for easy reading, especially early on in the book.