Time Stops for No Mouse

Is there anything lovelier than discovering a really talented, even famous writer by chance? That just happened to me with the British novelist Leon Garfield. As I browsed a local children’s bookstore, my eye was attracted to a cover, and then a stunning first sentence. I bought. I read. I read more. And then, as it happens, I heard about the jubilation in the children’s book community: Garfield is back in print!

Although he wrote in the 1960s, Garfield’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century settings, and his plots charting the intersection of England’s poor and her rising middle class, have made comparisons with Dickens inevitable. But not entirely helpful: the talents are different. Garfield is a master of terse telling. And of fantastically strained metaphors. In him the architectural structures of eighteenth-century literature blend well with the Romantic hyperbole of the nineteenth. Garfield’s vision is moral, shaped by the questions of the age in which he lived.

Of the four novels republished this year, start with Smith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paper $6.95, 195 pp., ages 9 and up) whose title character is a young London pickpocket. The book opens with Smith’s capable pursuit of a disoriented country gentleman. Moments after he snatches the wallet, the old man is murdered. Concealed in the shadows, but not unobserved, Smith lingers long enough to learn that this is not a random killing: the...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Daria Donnelly (1959-2004) was an associate editor of Commonweal from 2000 to 2004. In 2002, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, she became associate editor (at large) and co-editor of the poetry section.