The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton (1955)

Book review: The Borrowers #2: The Borrowers Aloft by Mary Norton (Puffin Books, 1997 [1955], from The Complete Borrowers)

The Complete BorrowersAs it turned out, the end of the Borrowers wasn’t the end of Pod, Homily and Arrietty. They escaped to the fields but it was a long and dangerous journey, up the Azalea Bank, through the privet hedge and across the orchard, and they were hiding from humans and being attacked by insects.

When we last met the Clock family of Borrowers, they were leaving the house that had been their home for so long, and were setting out to find relatives living in a field nearby.

Life as an indoors Borrower is very different to the life of an outdoor Borrower, and it’s hard for the family to adapt. Mother Homily spends most of the book being a nervous wreck, while young Arrietty thinks their new life outside is amazing. There is so much to see! Flowers and insects and water running in a stream and everything.

They find an old boot and set up camp there, which is all well and good in the summer. What do you do when winter creeps in? Maybe, just maybe, their new-found friend Spiller, an outdoorsy young Borrower of Arrietty’s age, can be of some assistance.

If The Borrowers showed some great examples of a love of nature, it has nothing on The Borrowers Afield. There are so many sumptous descriptions of haws and rosehips and hedgerows and running water that you can almost smell it. This is truly a book that engages all the senses!

It really brought back memories from my childhood, like the sense of water running past my wellies while I was walking in a stream in a piece of woodland not too far from home – or the smell of dry pine needles, lit by the morning sun. How my friends and I would be in a very small wooded area and pretend we lived in the forest, pretending to make spag bol (out of rotted wood) on a purple frisbee, and so on. It’s not even as if we lived in the countryside – we didn’t; we lived in a small industrial town, but nature is never far away in Sweden, which is probably the thing I miss most about not living there.

Books like this probably helped cultivate an appreciation for nature, because it echoed my parents’ enthusiasm for it. Every spring, for instance, we’d drive out to to “the Islands” (i.e. Tjörn and Orust, the 6th and 3rd largest islands in Sweden) to visit Sundsby. We’d pack some sandwiches and a thermos flask of coffee and go walking around the place to look at the spring flowers. It’s one of the few places where it’s easy to spot blåsippor, a protected species of flower. The woodland is usually awash with wood anemones, provided you’re there at the right time.

You don’t have to believe there are Borrowers at the bottom of the garden to find nature a magical place, but it certainly adds to the charm. Well, provided one of them isn’t such a goshdarn crybaby like Homily, that is. When Destiny’s Child did Independent Women, she was not what they had in mind, to put it mildly. If you consider the hysterics of Mrs Bennett and turn them up to eleven, there’s Homily. When she’s not busy being a snob, that is. Her first reaction to Spiller is so prejudiced I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry.

At least Arrietty doesn’t just sit around and bemoan the fact that they no longer have fancy chairs (or screams with very little provocation), but it’s still very much a man’s job to go out Borrowing. Say whatever you like about the 1950s, but they were sure very keen on traditional gender roles …

Not to mention the patronising way Mild-Eye the Gipsy is portrayed. Different times indeed.

That being said, it’s still a great read.

4.5 out of 5 missing scissor halves.

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