I knew of Eva Ibbotson first for her fantasies, like The Secret of Platform 13, which has already been a Dalek. I loved her for her non-fantasy fiction. Of these, A Song for Summer was the first, and the worst, and my favourite.
Saying it is not the best Ibbotson novel does not, of course, mean it is a bad novel! The fact it is an Ibbotson novel elevates it above many others. It simply means that you should read it first, and love it, before you read those. The characters in this go through a little more, and grow up a little more, and are a little more bruised and wiser by the end (in that it is like I Capture the Castle, which I love a little closer to the end of the story with each passing year).
But it is an Ibbotson novel – a fairytale set between the wars, about the domestically inclined daughter-and-niece of militant suffragettes, seeking her fortune and employment as a housemistress in an eccentric English boarding school in Switzerland, populated by paralysed tortoises, mysterious musical gardeners, Marxist theatre troupes, and featuring war, intrigue, daring escapes, missed understandings, missed connections, love, loss, patience, boarding schools, evacuees, violins…
Intriguingly, Eva Ibbotson’s non-fantasy fiction seems to come in pairs – adult and children’s/YA. This is the adult parallel to The Dragonfly Pool, as Journey to the River Sea is the counterpart to the ethereal, Amazonian A Company of Swans. All are complete, perfect fairytales without fairies, fantasy without magic, hard without bitterness, enchanting without being too sweet.
In other news: I have finished the first, enormous, amorphous manuscript of the work-in-progress! That’s… about all that has happened in the last month and a half.