Saturday, 17 October 2009

Victoria Eveleigh: Midnight on Lundy

Victoria Eveleigh: Midnight on Lundy
Tortoise Publishing, £8.50 - published October 12, 2009


Victoria Eveleigh is one of the very small band of authors writing pony books untinged by either fantasy or horse whispering. She’s set this book in 1960s Lundy, when Lundy was a much more isolated community than it is now. The only way of getting to the mainland was via boat, and if the weather was too bad, you were stuck.



Jenny, the book’s heroine, has lived on Lundy all her life. It is a very small community, and Jenny is facing a huge change in her life with the prospect of boarding school, rather than lessons with Mrs Hamilton on the island. Jenny’s passion in life is the Lundy ponies, particularly the stallion, Midnight. He has a rather mixed reputation, but Jenny has managed to tame him, and with the aid of filched sugar lumps, manages to tame him even more. Unfortunately this has taught Midnight that humans can have goodies, and he molests visitors and makes himself very unpopular. The islanders decide Midnight must go, but Jenny manages to free him, only to find out she has inadvertently signed his death warrant. Jenny is distraught at what she has done; and tries to make amends.

Although the book is set in the 1960s, this doesn’t jar particularly: yes, there are no mobile phones or ipods but Jenny and her friends are recognisable enough types and the story strong enough to carry it through. The descriptions of Lundy are wonderful, and she catches the flavour of this close knit community. I did wonder, in passing, what it's like now. I guess that technology has changed things considerably, and it's a portrait of a community now lost.

I haven’t tried this book on my teenage daughter yet (she is a big fan of the author's Katy books), as in the middle of the welter of parties, dance classes and that rushed at beast, homework, it’s difficult to catch her with her feet on the ground for more than one second. I think she’ll enjoy the book: there is a very lightly drawn romance – well, the stirrings of one, and that should appeal.

As far as pony book conventions go, Jenny is, of course, the only one who can manage Midnight, but this is more because she’s the only one who’s bothered to take the time to try, than because of any special mystical bond, and there’s an affecting ending where Jenny realises that what she wants is not necessarily what Midnight wants.

The book catches the flavour of the community well, but is at its best when Jenny goes to school. Victoria Eveleigh has a real talent for portraying the minefield that is girlhood friendship, and Jenny’s struggles to fit in are captured wonderfully. Maybe a school story should be the next thing on Victoria Eveleigh’s agenda: she writes well and convincingly about ponies, but the school section is so acutely observed I feel there is real scope here for more: she’s more than capable of wiping the floor with Chestnut Hill. The pony Midnight also emerges well: he is entirely believable, unlike some of the poor cardboard creatures who infest some modern series like yes, Chestnut Hill.

This is a well crafted, absorbing pony story. I was left feeling that there is a lot more to come from Victoria Eveleigh: in her Katy books she’s shown she has a very acute ear for dialogue and how the children she sees behave with each other. In this book, because it’s set in the 1960s, she doesn’t have that wealth of immediate detail to draw on. That’s a very minor quibble, because I enjoyed this book and it is well done; but the school section does show you just what the author is capable of and I’d love to see more.

2 comments:

Amabat said...

Having just come back from Lundy, access is still only by boat or helicopter, and there is very little mobile phone signal so they don't intrude.

The small number of permenant residents means that if you stay in the holiday cottages for a week you feel very much part of a small insular community, and the ponies are still there. It hasn't changed.

Tortie said...

Hi, Amabat. Lucky you, staying on Lundy for a week. You would have had good weather, too. This is what I wrote in an email to Jane after I read her review (of my book!):
Lundy is now owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust, the lighthouses are automated and there's a jetty which makes travelling to and from the island much easier for humans and other animals. The result is that many more visitors can be accommodated on the island, it's more manicured (a la National Trust, if you know what I mean) and the people living there are employees rather than long-term residents on the whole. Inevitably it has lost some of its old character, but the NT and LT have managed to make it pay for itself (something the previous private owners weren't able to do) and much of the island is still essentally as it has been for ages. It's a really special place.