The Everlasting Story of Nory

Baker’s novel could hardly differ more from its predecessors VOX (1992) and THE FERMATA (1994). Eleanor Winslow, a winning and open girl from Palo Alto, California, tells of the events of the fall term at Threll School, an up-market institution in a rather posh cathedral town evidently north of London. Nory was “interested in dentistry or paper engineering when she grew up,” but she is interested in a great deal besides, not least of which is the difference between Threll and her former school, the “International Chinese Montessori School” in Palo Alto, where, though not a whizbang student, she learned ideograms.

Clearly she is a privileged child. But her great appeal is her openness: “In Venice she . . . ate pitch-black spaghetti. The black was squid ink and was quite good.” How many American kids would think so? Nory’s also passionate about justice, taking under her wing Pamela, the school scapegoat. Though she has her own problems with nightmares, she deals with them by making up stories. She is not locked up in herself. Though no goody-two-shoes, she reaches out continually to her brother, her parents, her schoolmates, and, so far as lies within her, her world.

This good-natured crossover novel—it works for big and little—continues in its disarming innocence and candor the great theme of the innocent abroad, with an acute eye and a perfectly tuned ear to record the (usually) comic consequences of the non-clash of the two cultures divided by a common language. Baker’s own language is as usual pitch-perfect, and one of the many pleasures of this humane and funny novel lies in Nory’s wonderful way with language: she felt a “twizzle of fear,” she “scrumpled up a leaf,” she worries about “the wholekitten caboodle.”