Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Railway Children


The Railway Children / E. Nesbit
[Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2009, c1906.

Another children's book! This time a classic. Somehow I got into the groove of reading kid lit over the break. I have a lot of favourite Nesbit from when I was young, but this wasn't one of them. Somehow, the idea of a realist story of three siblings whose family loses all its money and has to move to the country didn't appeal as much as stories of sand fairies and magic carpets when I was a child reader.

But I decided to read it now, since there was an audio version in my library. I really enjoyed the narrator, who didn't try to sound twee or sweet, just crisply English. 

It's the story of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis, three siblings who face a crisis when their father mysteriously disappears and their mother moves them to a drafty country house, and becomes far too busy writing stories for magazines to play with them any longer. They entertain themselves by haunting the railway line that runs near the house, and visiting the station regularly. They make friends with the station master and porter, with an old gentleman on the train, and with various townspeople. 

It is an episodic story, with adventures happening regularly - the children have to warn an oncoming train about a landslide around the corner; they celebrate the porter's birthday; they rescue a schoolboy who has broken his leg inside the railway tunnel. And much more.

Throughout, the sibling relationships are realistic, with lots of arguments and boy/girl stereotypes too. It is quite of its time in some ways, with adults talking about the strength of boys and the weakness of girls, and the angelic mother. But it's also lively and fresh in others, as when the children's father states near the opening that girls and boys are equal and encourages Roberta, the eldest, in her interest in trains. 

It was a little soppy for me in parts, and the habit of the narrator talking to the reader, especially as the end got nearer, was a bit trying. It gets a bit meta in the end, with the children and their story-writing mother saying things like 'if this were a story, then x would happen' and the mother sweetly saying that God knows the right end to a story. 

But I did enjoy it in the main, and found the ending touching. I still think this wouldn't have appealed to me much as a child; I would always go for the magic in the other Nesbit stories. As an adult, I appreciated it but didn't make that connection you can make when reading as a young reader. 

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