Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is without a doubt one of my favourite books. It was rereleased recently in Australia, and I cannot tell you how many times I recommended the book to parents wanting to buy books for their children. I would have sold dozens of copies just through my enthusiasm for the book.
I was pondering on why I love the book so much, as it doesn’t contain one of my usual favourite ingredients when it comes to to favourite books – that is, magic realism or ‘low fantasy’. However, it does contain something else that I am rather fond of – quaint Britishness and a quiet adventure. Set in the early 1900s, it tells the story of Maia, an young orphan who is sent from her very British boarding school to live with her very British aunt and uncle, who live along the Amazon, but are determined to repress the wildness outside them. She is accompanied by a very British governess (sort of a long lost cousin of Mary Poppins – strict but delightful). The whole thing is wonderfully British, while still being a love letter to the beauty and freedom of the the Amazon.
That is the wondrous complex mix of Journey to the River Sea – it is both full of lovely old-fashioned Britishness, a bit of Nesbit, a bit of Blyton, a bit of Hodgson Burnett (there is definitely a bit of Little Lord Fauntleroy in there) as well as untamed, adventurous Amazon. I am sure the reason I am so desperate to visit South America stems from Ibbotson’s amazing descriptions of the Amazon. I am almost afraid that if I visited the Amazon, it couldn’t possibly live up to Ibbotson’s book – I would probably have to visit via a terrible tourist cruise down the river, rather than experience like Maia and Finn do – sail along in a boat they repaired themselves, their only company Finn’s dog and the sounds of the river around them.
I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow rereading Journey to the River Sea. Every time I read it I discover something else I love about it, and it reawakens a passion in me to travel – not just to South America, but to see EVERYTHING. It makes me feel that the world is truly amazing and I should be experiencing it.
It reminds me of this quote by Ali Smith:
‘You know when you hear a piece of music once, you haven’t heard it properly, you want to hear it again. A well-made book will reward you in exactly the same way as music does, in that you will understand and love a piece. You’ll feel the cadence and depth of it and hear things in it all the time. If you pay it a little more attention, it will reward you, like all art. Like everything, actually.’