Book Review: Appreciating Arthur Ransome

Peter Willis reviews “Swallows, Amazons and Coots: a reading of Arthur Ransome”.

If you have ever wondered why you like Arthur Ransome’s books so much, the answer might just be that he is a better writer than even you realised.

Julian Lovelock’s new book “Swallows, Amazons and Coots: a reading of Arthur Ransome” is the first extended literary appreciation of Arthur Ransome since Peter Hunt’s 1992 study “Approaching Arthur Ransome”, and Lovelock brings many new insights to this subject.

He has also done a lot of homework. Each of the “Swallows and Amazons” books is discussed in turn, and for each one he brings in a lot of background information about Arthur Ransome’s domestic circumstances at the time of its writing, as well as the construction of each book and relations with his publisher – not to mention his father, and of course his wife.

There are all sorts of insights – for example, regarding character development, Lovelock notes how Susan, generally thought of as the paragon of surrogate motherhood, can have quite an unpleasant streak, being particularly antagonistic towards the D’s when they turn up in “Winter Holiday.”

Lovelock is good on the way that the political climate of the times influences things, and also on metafiction – the often problematic story-within-a-story device. All-in-all, he is highly adept at finding in the books more than you might have imagined – or things that were there to see, but you simply didn’t notice.

“Swallows, Amazons and Coots: a reading of Arthur Ransome” is a book to enjoy, argue with, and be inspired by to go back and reread its twelve subjects. It also includes a foreword by Sophie Neville, who played Titty Walker in the 1974 film of “Swallows and Amazons”. She is currently the President of the Arthur Ransome Society.

“Swallows, Amazons and Coots: a reading of Arthur Ransome” is available from our Swallows and Amazons shop for just £20.00 (plus postage and packing). As always, proceeds from the shop support the work of the Nancy Blackett Trust.