I knew that I'd love this book. Well, I hoped I would. I'd seen it about on blogs and reviews a few times before I saw it in the shops. As soon as I saw it in the shops I was smitten. The book itself is so delightful as an object- you want to buy it. Hardcover. A beautiful muted blue palate, with exceptionally pretty endpapers, and gorgeous illustrations throughout. And a ribbon. Sold.
I bought it not too long before Christmas. Buying a book is the easy thing of course, finding the time to read it quite another. But last week I made use of a summer cold and being laid up in bed, and put the time to good use. And I was enchanted right from the start.
Withering-by-Sea is the name of the British seaside town where Stella Montgomery resides with her three aunts. They all live in the imposing Hotel Majestic. Stella's aunts are there drawn by the famous water.
'It's special water. It's revolting. It comes up out of the ground, underneath the hotel. It's famous. People drink it for their health.' Stella giggled. 'Before this, in another hotel, they only ate white things, like turnips and mild puddings and tapioca, and they had to drink potato juice for breakfast. And before that, we were up in the mountains. They had cold air baths, and there was an Influence Machine, and they had to sleep with their windows open. Sometimes the snow came in.'
'And that makes them better?'
'Not so far,' said Stella.
Aunt Temperance, Condolence and Deliverance aren't quite as awful as Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. They probably aren't outrightly malevolent like Sponge and Spiker, but they are trying to bring up Stella as a proper Victorian lady. Stella takes lessons in deportment, pianoforte and French Conversations for Young Ladies. Which all makes for a rather dull life until one night in the conservatory where Stella witnesses a rather extraordinary occurrence and she becomes embroiled in more adventure than she can bargain for.
It was a familiar, dismal feeling to be in disgrace.
Withering-by-Sea is an exciting tale of Victorian mystery and adventure. It incorporates magic and fantasy elements seamlessly. There is much humour to be had from the Aunts.