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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I feel I need to apologise to this blog for neglecting it.

It’s not that I don’t love it, I do, but I’ve been rather tied up with the new one for my Style Notes column (see link above).

Then of course there has been Christmas, not a small distraction, but the main reason was that I’ve had the most peculiar run of fails.

I was about three chapters into the marvellous Freedom by Jonathan Frantzen when my Kindle, containing it, was stolen on an Emirates flight.

When I got home I started The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas in old-style physical book form, but when I was a few pages into the second chapter I lost it, somewhere in the house. I don’t know how it happened but I just can’t find it.

Bloody annoying, as those are two very interesting books.

Next I picked up a volume so grippingly interesting I can’t read it at night. The ideas are so stimulating it keeps me awake. And during this crazy time of year, I just haven’t had any reading time in the day.

It was in the small hours of one of the sleepless nights caused by Book X (I don’t want to reveal what it is until I’ve finished it…) when I had moved to my daughter’s bedroom and put her in with dad, so I could toss and turn without keeping them awake, that I picked up The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

The idea was that reading one my daughter’s books would quickly put me to sleep. Well, I picked the wrong one. I found this tale of plucky little girls pitted against nasty grown ups, in a fictional period of English history (the reign of ‘James III’ when wild wolves roamed Yorkshire), as gripping and exciting as I had when I first read it, aged nine.

The wonderfully vivid atmosphere – be it delicious cosiness, or nail-biting tension – and intensely evocative descriptions of place, gave me exactly the same pleasure as they had on my first reading.

Now I’m going to re-read the sequel.

Reading satisfaction: 7
Un-put-downable-ness: 8
Recommend to best girlfriend: 8
Recommend to mother: 10
Recommend to niece: 9
Recommend to gay best friend: 1
Recommend to man pal: 5
Recommend to Helen Razer: 0
Read on public transport: 3
Unpleasantness: 0


  1. I loved The Slap. Perhaps because I am a Melbourne girl and live in the same suburbs. but I found it the best Aussie novel ever written, it was funny, entertaining, biting.. Bit like when I first read Patrick White. Whereas I find Peter Careys books just plain pretentious.

  2. I passionately hated The Slap. Never read a book that has such thoroughly unpleasant characters & the heterosexual relationships are utterly unbelievable. Couldn't be bothered finishing it, wish I'd lost my copy!

  3. I was so pleased to see your post about the wolves of willoughby chase and its sequels: i received it and Black Hearts in Battersea in about 1965 as a present and must have reread them nearly every year up to the age of ...25(?)
    Everything about these books was so satisfying; the interconnectedness of the characters, the social mix in which we had good and evil at all levels, the humour and richness of the fictitious historical period..I assume you will go further Maggie and reread night birds on nantucket and the cuckoo tree and there's the stolen lake too... sad to say my children have not read them

  4. I love reading kids books when the book is well-written, and I've read "Wolves" a number of times over the years, all of her other books are very readable as well. If I've had a bad day at work I will come home and read a bit of "Anne of Green Gables" as a comfort (I can understand why that might make some other people queasy though...)

  5. Oh I too hated The Slap! It seems to be a very polarising book.
    I'm about to start Freedom so will be interested to read your thoughts.

    Maggie - I received Shall We Dance for Christmas. I finished it late Boxing Day - such a lovely read!

  6. I'm on the "hating The Slap" bandwagon. I thought it was very poorly written, the authors voice came through some of the characters too strongly. The words and ideas gauche and unwieldy and each character more unlikeable than the one before. All wrapped up in an unbelievable manner. As someone else said, I wish I'd lost my copy.

  7. I loved the slap> its characters are so goo. I like the story of this book.

  8. I loved the Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts of Battersea and Night Birds on Nantucket as much for the terrific scribbly illustrations as for the rollicking tales of such plucky youg'uns. The Slap was kinda nasty but unputdownable and left me feeling all the ghastly damage was inflicted by the women that the men were simply hapless rather than evil. Very depressing actually.

  9. I discovered the delights of Joan Aiken's writing when I moved from Tasmania for a year in London at the age of nine. The Wolves were wonderful inspiration for appreciating the place and the young heroine, Dido Twite, is a grrrrl through and through and then some. Aiken's short stories for children are also fabulous: whimsical, poignant, delightful and slyly humorous, full of civil servants and unicorns, pushy matrons and kindly wizards, boys and girls...all ripping yarns. I'm a fan!