THE GIRL IN THE ABBEY by Jessica Collett
The Book Guild Ltd, Leics, UK p/b £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There is a vogue for books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title – The Girl on the Train, The Girl With All the Gifts, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It attracts attention but it needs to have something unusual to make it stand out. One of the problems with publishing in certain genres is that certain tropes become predictable and need twists and originality to make them extraordinary.
The Girl in the Abbey straddles genres. It has a ten-year-old protagonist, Violet Cobb, which puts into the children’s category. Violet is an evacuee from Grimsby just before Dunkirk, giving it a historical background. It is also a ghost story. This might only be a surprise to younger readers who are unfamiliar with the pattern.
Violet is placed at Bramlington Abbey in rural Derbyshire. She isn’t actually staying in the Abbey itself, but with Mister Whispers, the elderly gardener, in a cottage that doesn’t have running water. She is forbidden to go into the Abbey but is not really told why. As the only evacuee in the village (no mention of other children or how her schooling is to be continued), she has a lot of time on her hands. Fortunately, the weather is good and she enjoys reading. So when she is in the overgrown garden with a book, she is surprised to meet a girl her own age who calls herself Sarah. This girl claims that Lady Audrey, the Abbey’s sole inhabitant, is her grandmother. She sneaks Violet into the house to see her room and encourages Violet to be disobedient. Violet is a catalyst for change as evacuees often were – strange children thrust into places where often the people caring for them were having their lives disrupted, and not just by the war. This is an engaging story, and appears to be historically accurate. Younger readers may well enjoy it but a more widely read person may feel that there is not enough that is unusual and may find the events predictable. Unexceptional, but nicely written.