(Ann) Philippa Pearce Penelope Farmer - Essay

Penelope Farmer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"In the Middle of the Night," the best story here in Philippa Pearce's ["What the Neighbours Did and Other Stories,"] is very funny…. [It] is as finely structured as music; at the last note, sighing pleasurably, you wish for nothing more: a distinct achievement. On the other hand, some of these stories are often oddly unsatisfactory. The tone varies, of course. Two are first person, some slangy, others formal or detached or both. But all have Miss Pearce's strong sense of place, her wit and slyness of observation (adding, incidentally, to her special gallery of obstinate old men). Some may not be children's stories at all. The title one, for instance, shows a small, awful, adult wasteland. The best are too good to be confined to children anyway.

A few, inevitably, work less well—"Lucky Boy" perhaps or "The Great Blackberry Pick"—though the human observations are as good as ever. I find in some respects, the most interesting story "Fresh," the most introspective, reminding me of the strangeness and intensity of the best of Philippa Pearce's earlier work….

[It's] sad that a writer of this quality appears to have turned so resolutely from certain facets of her talent; and not just her talent for fantasy; her realism was often as powerful. Then I think of the end of her "The Squirrel Wife"—significant not so much for the hero's acceptance of the loss of his wife's forest powers, as for his lack of apparent regret. Maybe so. I regret it all the same. But I also know Philippa Pearce must go her own way. And since this collection would be beyond the powers of most of us, it seems churlish not to welcome and enjoy them as they are.

Penelope Farmer, "What the Neighbors Did," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 20, 1974, p. 8.