You made me read it: The Country Child

Alison Uttley, The Country Child (1931)

In my last Make me read it poll, The Country Child by Alison Uttley edged out David Copperfield and The Scarlet Letter for the win. I’d had a hard time getting into the first chapter of this fictionalized memoir of the author’s childhood in early 20th century Derbyshire, and I needed a little push. Thank you for giving it to me, because it turned out to be a really lovely book. Although it cycles through the seasons from autumn to winter to spring to summer, the heart of the book takes place at Christmastime, and so it was a perfect read for this time of year, too.

The opening, that I at first found hard going, concerns the child Susan’s fears of the wood near her house, that she has to go through frequently, terrified that “They” will get her. Perhaps it was this creepy horror-story vibe that put me off, but once I got a bit further into the book it turned out to be only part of Susan’s imaginative experience. A somewhat lonely only child, not paid much attention by her busy parents on a working farm, she invests all the natural world and household objects around her with life and consciousness, imagining them as her friends, and sometimes enemies.

Uttley’s description of this lost rural existence before the wars of the last century makes for enchanting reading, if you enjoy rather slow-paced, evocative, episodic stories. There are human connections, too, with farmhands, visiting pedlars, and schoolmates — including a humorous scene in which Susan inadvertently invites all the girls from her school over for tea — but the strongest impression is left by the inanimate, yet vividly characterized environment in which this “country child” is growing up.

At the end, Susan’s fear of “Them” is evoked again, but she’s grown stronger; she defiantly slams the farm gate behind her to show them that she’s safe. Within the covers of this book, we, too enter a world where we can be sheltered and comforted, reminded that beauty, transformation, and wonder are always possible.

Thank you again for making me read it! If you’ve not yet entered Susan’s world yourself, I hope you will give it a try.

Illustrations by C.F. Tunnicliffe from the Folio Society edition (2008)

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9 thoughts on “You made me read it: The Country Child

  1. Oh, what a relief, Lory, I knew the slow opening can be challenging so there’s always a chance that a reader new to it (as we all are at some point) would simply decide not to complete it! And yes, the Christmas episode is so evocative, even nostalgic.

    1. I struggled several times with that opening chapter but once past it all was smooth going. I’m so glad! And now I have another lovely literary Christmas to remember each year.

  2. Thanks, I didn’t know about this book. AS I went to add it to my TBR, I discovered there’s a sequel: The Farm on the Hill. Are you considering reading it as well?

  3. I seem to remember Uttley wrote the ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ books which I loved as a young child. This book does sound charming, but I would be put off by the slow start I fear.

    1. Yes, she wrote the Little Grey Rabbit books and also A Traveller in Time, a wonderful time-slip novel. I’m not quite sure why I had trouble with the first chapter but I wouldn’t want to put you off trying the book with my description. You could always dip in at a different place — many chapters could stand alone I think.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this as I think I was a yes vote! I read A Traveler in Time right before seventh grade and I remember on the first day of (a new) school being asked what we had read that summer. I put up my hand eagerly to talk about it, earning myself a nerd reputation from the first (not that I really cared)…

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