Book Review for “The Lark” by E. Nesbit
Written in 1922, this is one of E. Nesbit’s few adult works of fiction, and one of her last to be published before she died. The story follows two young cousins, Jane and Lucille (known mostly as Lucy), whose guardian seems to have lost all their inheritance and suddenly removes them from school and has them installed in their dead Aunt’s home, Hope Cottage near London, with nothing more than this roof over their heads and £500 in the bank (not a small sum for post WWI era, but not enough to live on for too long). These young women must figure out how to make a living with no training in anything at all. As the blurb says “Lucilla is disheartened, but Jane is certain it will be a lark.”
As noted, Nesbit was best known for her children’s novels, such as The Railway Children. This shows through very clearly in this novel, since there’s truly an innocence to the prose here. In fact, I’d even go so far to say that today, this might be considered a Young Adult novel, since our protagonists are actually both teenagers (which wasn’t a reading age group at the time). Although Lucille seems to have at least a little bit of a head on her shoulders, Jane is quite a flighty type, and while neither of them are stupid, they also don’t seem to have any life skills (as we’d call them today). For example, when the start selling flowers from their garden to get some income, they cannot seem to figure out how to add up all the money they’ve taken in, which is no real surprise considering that British coinage had yet to move over to a decimal system. These two charming girls are the epitome of a phrase in Hebrew (יותר מזל משכל) which translates to “more luck than brains.”
As you can probably imagine, these two young women have big dreams, and equally large obstacles to overcome in order to achieve them. For example, they find that within only a few days, the flowers in their cottage’s small garden are sold out. When they wander by a boarded up ‘mansion’ they envy the place its size and grounds. But it seems that while their luck continues to hold out, they also seem to do all sorts of things that could undermine their own fortunes, as they set out on ever more ambitious business endeavors, without looking for the pitfalls that could befall them. They’re also far too trusting of their fellow human beings, with some sadly predictable results. Still, you can’t help falling in love with these young ladies, because even when they seem like they’re facing an insurmountable setback, they seem to know that this is all a learning process and they just have to readjust to get things back on track. Plus, despite some tears along the way, they are able to pick themselves up and enjoy themselves again. Ah, youth; it is wasted on the young!
As delightful as all this sounds, I do have to say that there were a few things that didn’t sit quite right with me. As I’ve mentioned, the prose is very sweet and innocent, which is complimented with a terribly charming way in which the invisible, third-person omnipresent narrator often breaks the proverbial fourth-wall and speaks directly with the reader. These sections are obviously written to help fill in the gaps between one piece of action described as a segue to what is described next. Although most of these were philosophical in tone, if slightly judgmental of the girls, they sometimes left me with more questions than they were apparently meant to answer. This meant that the overall novel felt a bit disjointed at times, and I wondered if I was missing something along the way. Also, as fun loving as Nesbit draws these girls, they also felt slightly unbelievable, and like their story, a bit too good to be true in places.
Also, I should mention that this book has an introduction written by Charlotte Moore, which unfortunately, I found very distracting, mostly because it seemed to be giving away spoilers. When I realized that, I stopped reading the introduction altogether. I honestly think this should have been made into an afterward instead of being placed before the book begins. I would therefore suggest readers skip this, and move directly to the novel. (On the other hand, at the end of this novel, there’s an excerpt from another Dean Street Press book, The Late Mrs. Prioleau, by Monica Tindall which really piqued my interest, and I’m thinking I might get a copy of it soon!)
All this is to say that I wouldn’t call it adult fiction. No, this feels much more like a YA (or New Adult) novel that is a mixture of women’s fiction, mixed with lots of humor, a touch of (very clean) romance, and a few tiny mysteries sprinkled on top. Overall, I enjoyed this novel a great deal, so I’ll recommend it for those looking for a classic contemporary, literary fiction novel, which deserves a very healthy four out of five stars.
Dean Street Press released this new edition of the 1922 novel “The Lark” by E. Nesbit on March 7, 2017. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (supporting independent book stores) or an IndieBound store near you.