I’ve been reading books by Eva Ibbotson since I was about sixteen. Whilst browsing the adult fiction in Elgin Library (by this time I was a member of both Lossiemouth and Elgin Libraries) I happened upon A Countess Below Stairs, took it home, read it and loved it. A few years later, I had a summer job with Moray District Libraries and I spent the first money I earned on all of Eva Ibbotson’s adult novels then available. Yeadon’s bookshop in Elgin ordered them in specially.
But it wasn’t until much later, when I was working as a school librarian, that I read her children’s books. They were a great find. I’ve been reading, and raving about, them ever since. I like them for lots of reasons but mostly, I think, for the quality of Eva Ibbotson’s writing. She uses language so well; she almost doesn’t need to describe how someone is feeling or the atmosphere of a situation. You can feel mood and emotion in the way she puts words together.
I was excited when I read about The Dragonfly Pool and gutted when Macmillan didn’t send me a proof copy. However, I bought a copy as soon as it was published and then hoarded it for a few days. I almost couldn’t bear to read it because then it would be over. Strange? Well, maybe. But that’s how I felt. Was it worth all this high drama? Of course.
I’m not here to recount the story for you. Go to the library and borrow a copy if you want to know what happens. I am here to tell you that The Dragonfly Pool is every bit as good as anything else she’s written (well, The Star of Kazan might be slightly better…). And again it’s the way that Eva Ibbotson crafts the English language that makes the book so memorable. She makes her readers feel the innocence and freedom of the English boarding school and contrasts that with the lurking and pervading evil of Nazi-ism in Bergania before returning us to England and exposing us to Tally’s (the main character) despair.
Eva Ibbotson never has to point any of this out to us. She shows it. She also shows us places we’ve never been and never can be so clearly that we feel that we know them. Whenever I talk about Eva Ibbotson’s writing I almost forget to mention that she writes cracking stories filled with believable characters. She does, of course. But I might read her books even if they didn’t have great plots just for the joy of living in her sublime language for a while.