Julia Green’s new book could be a story of our time; it is certainly one for our time. Without ever explicitly referring to any of the dominating current issues, she settles on us the impression that her novel’s setting has been caused by an imagined set of repercussions of Brexit, COVID-19, feuding factions and environmental neglect.
The Children of Swallow Fell has no dramatic plot arc. It’s the kind of book I like best, one that allows us to step into another person’s life for a period. In this case that person is Isabella. When the Italian city in which she lives is bombed, she is forced to flee with her father, leaving behind her mother and older sister – as well as the chance to find out what has befallen her friend Marta.
Isabella’s artist father is English meaning they are the fortunate owners of papers allowing them to cross the Channel to relative safety. But they are leaving behind the kind of life Isabella has always known and her father has become accustomed to. Both are staggered by the lack of all that they have taken for granted and the change is magnified as they travel north to the house Isabella has never seen but where her father grew up.
What ensues is a beautiful story of loss and enrichment, resilience and friendship, compellingly told with the skill one would expect of Julia Green. The book is appropriately written for a young readership but it is never facile. And it is always engaging, sweeping the reader along.