The Little Gentleman
When Bet is first asked to go into the meadow and read a passage aloud from a book - apparently to no-one - she wonders why. But then she realises that her audience is a little mole, who listens attentively. This isn't just any mole. This mole can speak, he is more than 300 years old and he has an amazing tale to tell. So begins an extraordinary friendship between a lonely little girl and The Little Gentleman in Black Velvet.
From the author of modern classics such as Tom’s Midnight Garden, and A Dog So Small, this charming new novel from Philippa Pearce is reassuringly good and of a very fine quality. It is rooted firmly in the English countryside around the author’s home, the backdrop for many of her most entertaining and enduring stories, and combines history, magical realism and a host of well-drawn characters.
Bet, the granddaughter of Mr Franklin’s cleaning lady, is asked to deputise for the ailing master of the house by carrying out the most peculiar of tasks. She is despatched to the nearby meadow, apparently empty, and told to read aloud from Charles Darwin’s treatise on the earthworm. Her audience however is not just fresh air, butterflies and long grass - it is a centuries-old mole who can talk.
After her understandable surprise, Bet and mole become acquainted and the little furry creature’s significant history becomes clear. This little mole was the very same mole whose molehill in 1702 caused King William III’s horse to stumble and fall, chucking its rider and causing injuries to the King from which he died. Taken to Scotland as the toast of the Jacobean Cause, a spell was put upon this ‘little gentleman in black velvet’ which has made him immortal ever since. And it is from this curse that the mole wants to be free above all else, even if it is at a cost to Bet.
Her first full-length work for nearly 20 years, Philippa Pearce’s The Little Gentleman is a timely reminder not to forget about the powerful storytelling skills still demonstrated by some of the country’s more long-established authors. In these times of young debut authors, pre-publication hype, door-stop fantasies and multi-million pound book advances, this is a little gem of a book from one the nations’ favourite and award-winning authors. (Age 9 and over) - John McLay