Lynne Reid Banks Janice Elliott - Essay

Janice Elliott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Children at the Gate is Lynne Reid Banks's third novel and her best. The L-Shaped Room was touching and competent. This study of an unhappy woman painfully learning to love is ambitious and mature. Perhaps because she attempts a more intricate story and deeper statements and observations, it is uneven. There is some self-indulgent chatter on the part of the narrator. The first-person treatment is a good vehicle for the self-revelation which is the theme of the book. But there are perils in forcing your reader to keep company with the same character from start to finish.

Fortunately, Gerda, except in her cups, is good company. She has lost her husband by divorce and her son by drowning. In Israel, after the rather too lengthy first part of alcoholic self-flagellation, she is convincing and moving in her search for love through the adoption of two Arab children. Miss Reid Banks's account of the way in which, slowly and awkwardly, the lonely woman and frightened children teach each other to love, is harshly realistic and never sentimental. Possibly because she has lived there long enough to digest her experience and use it naturally, with understanding and humour, her treatment of the Israeli background and kibbutz life is equally precise. This is a book about love in all its aspects of giving and taking, from sexual greed to kindness. Kindness is one of the most difficult qualities to portray in fiction. Here, as in The L-Shaped Room, Miss Reid Banks does it better than any novelist I know.

Janice Elliott, "Old Hat," in New Statesman (© 1968 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 76, No. 1950, July 26, 1968, p. 116.∗