July 2, 2015

The Sage of Waterloo

Whenever I read certain kinds of novels -- modern re-tellings of Jane Austen, for instance, or a mystery that casts a real person as its sleuth -- I'm usually a little more willing to shut away the part of me who usually dislikes gimmicky books and give the one I'm reading the benefit of the doubt, because there's something to be said for the fun of finding out what the author is going to do with what he or she is borrowing. It's definitely how I felt about this book. Unfortunately, in between the time that I put it on reserve at the library and when I started reading.it on Monday, I had read some negative reviews {including one on NPR that really made no sense}, and my anticipation was faltering a little.  But since it wasn't July then, yet {for Paris, or Framley Parsonage}, and it's a short book, I decided that The Sage of Waterloo might be the perfect reading for this week's eight bus rides,  It was, for that benefit-of-the-doubt reason, and one more besides.

The story is set in the present day.  William, our narrator, lives with his grandmother and his extended family at Hougoumont, a now-ruined chateau that was a decisive British stronghold during the Battle of Waterloo. William's grandmother is wise and philosophical, a lover of history and military strategy who tells fascinating bedtime stories about the battle, and the Duke of Wellington, and the ball at which the soldiers danced the night before, and the little French drummer boy who was saved by an English soldier. She is also fat and smelly, with a mean kick; the twist, you see, is that William and his grandmother, Old Lavender, are rabbits, living in an almost-abandoned hutch in the ruins. They can look out at the green fields that have taken over the chateau's old formal gardens, but although they are tempted, they know that there is danger outside, in what they call the Untried.

There is a plot, about what happens to William and Old Lavender, but it's not what held me. The writing is very imaginative, and beautiful at times {well done, for a first novel!}. But what I liked best was the story of the battle, something I knew nothing about; it was of course especially fitting to
learn something about it on its 200th anniversary As they burrow into the same spot outside their hutch every day, William and Old Lavender sometimes listen to two English ladies. frequent visitors who read aloud from the writings of Charlotte Eaton, who was trapped in Belgium at the start of the fighting and visited Hougoumont only a few weeks after the battle. I was hoping she was real {she was}, and that I could find the writings mentioned in the afterword {I couldn't}.  But a book that sends me off in search of another one is always a good book, to me, and that's the other reason for appreciating this one.


JoAnn said...

I approach retellings in much the same way. It doesn't always work, but so enjoyable when it does. This one sounds like a winner.

What do you think of Enchanted August?

Audrey said...

Lottie and Rose have just arrived at the cottage! I'm enjoying it! -- and appreciating the retelling!