The NYTimes Sunday books section recently had an interview with actress Emma Thompson about what she's reading. But what caught my attention were the books that she included among her childhood favorities, like "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase." Since that's also a favorite of mine, her list inspired me to search out "The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris" by Leon Garfield.
Harris and Bostock are friends and schoolmates at Dr. Bunnion's Academy for the Sons of Gentlefolk and Merchants. Harris, the hairbrained leader to the devoted Bostock, decides to conduct an unlikely experiment. He'll put his new baby sister, Adelaide, out on a country hillside to see if a wolf will come and suckle her, just like they've heard in the tale of Romulus and Remus from their inept teacher at school. But a trysting couple discover the child and carry her off, much to the consternation of the boys.
What follows as they attempt to rescue Adelaide — without revealing their part in the plot — is a tale with more twists and turns than Dickens and with a cast of characters that is most definitely Dickensian, though the story is set a century earlier. This little gem — intended for readers 12 and up — is one that will equally captivate adults. The language is replete with puns, similies, big words and a laugh-out-loud literay joke near the end of the story.
There is a lot of sexual innuendo, more silly than serious, that made me wonder if parents today would make a fuss over it; which was clearly not the case when it came out in 1971. A satisfying read that will send me in search of other Garfield books. But first I have to read another of Thompson's favorites that I also found in the public library: “The Box of Delights” by John Masefield.
Right or wrong, I am a reader who often judges a book by its cover. When searching online for cover images for these two children's books, I discovered the copies I found via the library have illustrations that are much less compelling than other editions. I have to admit that if I had just stumbled across the book with the blah cover (below) I would have been unlikely to give it another glance; while the cover above would have caught my eye and sucked me right in.