This lovely collection of stories for children—originally published in 1981—captures its eight-year-old protagonists’ innocence and, yes, naiveté, but maintains its dignity throughout, never slipping into irony or an affected “little kid’s voice.” It follows the friendship between Bell, son of a farming family in the Hollow Land (so called for the abandoned mines underneath) and Harry, son of a London-based journalist who brings his family to a country house there on occasional vacations. Gardam wrings much humor from the differences between the natives of the Hollow Land and the “London folk,” as when Bell’s family starts mowing a field in the middle of the night to beat the rain, much to the displeasure of Harry’s. The two boys meet soon afterward. In other adventures, Harry visits the home of a devout gypsy, the two boys get trapped in an abandoned mine, and, eventually, they grow to adulthood. Gardam has a knack for charming details, like the “two or three swallows sitting on a wire warm as toast and wondering if there was any point in going to Africa.” Less-than-idyllic realities occasionally intrude, as when Harry’s mother warns him not to pick up Bell’s cockney accent, but The Hollow Land concerns itself mostly with the grand adventures of little boys in a green and pleasant countryside.
–Published in January by Europa Editions. 176 pages. $15.00