Leon Garfield Brian W. Alderson - Essay

Brian W. Alderson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is Bostock and Harris who are responsible for 'the affair' [in The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris], they (or at least Harris) having decided to expose Harris's sister Adelaide on the down above Brighton in the hopes that she will be adopted by a wolf. This decision sets in train a sequence of events of extraordinary complexity, their relationship to real life being a fragile one, but their existence for the sake of Mr. Garfield's art being amply justified. Casting aside the elements of romantic drama which characterised such books as Jack Holborn and Black Jack, and turning his back on the pretensions of The Drummer Boy, he has allowed full play to the ingenuity and wit that are also present in those books.

It is impossible to chart the convolutions of the story—and indeed, an inquiry-agent brought in to do just this succeeds only in confounding matters even more…. What can be singled out is the sureness of the comedy: the descriptions (Mrs. Bunnion asleep 'like a stately ship rising and falling at anchor'), the characterisation, even of the walk-on parts (poor Adam, the apostate monk from Basingstoke, who was too wet to burn) and a farcical cross-talk that is at times reminiscent of Christopher Fry. The book has its flaws—some of the jokes are repetitious, and there is superfluous hat tipping towards our newly-acquired freedom of expression in 'children's literature'—but it is a fresh and original addition to that rather rare species: the comic novel. (p. 14)

Brian W. Alderson, in Children's Book Review (© 1972 by Five Owls Press Ltd.; all rights reserved), February, 1972.