Jul 22, 2011

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibboston

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibboston

The Dragonfly Pool opens when Tally Hamilton is sent from London to a boarding school, Delderton Hall, to be safe from the bombings that are sure to come when WW2 breaks out. Delderton Hall turns out to be a very unusual school, and Tally is quick to make friends among pupils and teachers alike. When the school principal is invited to send a group of students to a folk dance festival in the Kingdom of Bergania (to foster goodwill among European nations at a time of mounting international tensions), Tally jumps at the chance. There she ends up befriending Karil, the prince of Bergania. And sooner than any of them could have imagined, circumstances throw them together and irrevocably change their lives.

The Dragonfly Pool is actually a lot more awesome than I’ve just made it sound. This is because the plot is complex and has a lot going on, and I couldn’t really do it justice without giving too much away. But trust me when I say that this book has it all: child evacuees, boarding schools, a fictional fairy tale-like European kingdom where real WW2 politics nonetheless play out, a folk dance festival, plenty of humour, memorable main and supporting characters, lovely and moving subplots, adventure and suspense, d’aww moments, and Jenny’s seal of approval. I knew from page one I would love it, and I was not disappointed in the least.

Journey to the River Sea made me suspect as much, but The Dragonfly Pool absolutely confirms it: I have found a perfect new comfort author in Eva Ibbotson. Her books are excellent pick-me-ups: they have fairy tale-like structures; slightly unlikely plots that you’re nevertheless perfectly willing to embrace; plenty of gentle but nonetheless pointed satire; and mostly happy, comforting endings that still leave room for nuance, for complications, for bittersweetness, for the bad things that often do happen to good people to be acknowledged.The Dragonfly Pool has genuine WW2-related sad moments, which not only feel real in their own right but prevent the book’s comfort elements from every becoming facile or cheap. The happy resolution at the end feels real and earned.

If I have one complaint, it’s the fact that in Tally, more so than in Maia from Journey to the River Sea, I could see what Christy meant about Ibbotson’s too-perfect heroines. But this didn’t really spoil the book for me because there were plenty of other interesting characters, and also because despite being a little too good at everything, Tally was still convincingly human.

More than anything else, what really charmed me here was Eva Ibbotson’s sensibility. I love that her allegiances are clearly with kind, genuine characters; I love that despite this, she still treats her villains with a degree of generosity; I love her tendency to unapologetically poke fun at snobbishness, pompousness, self-importance, and any other excuses people use to treat others as less than real human beings. It’s a real pleasure to spend time with a mind like this.

I think I’ll pick up The Secret Countess next. That one has the Memory seal of approval, which is also a very good indicator that I’ll love it. And after that, I’ll surely but slowly read everything Eva Ibbotson has ever written.

Other points of view:
Jenny’s Books, Bookshelves of Doom, Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover, Once Upon a Bookshelf, Library Queue

(Yours?)

23 comments:

  1. This sounds perfect. I really need a book like this right now. I *knew* I should have waited to put in that order on books today.

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  2. The Secret Countess is a lovely book and I think you'll enjoy it. I also loved The Morning Gift too.

    What I love about Ibbotson is how unashamedly golden-hued her books are. I won't say rosy because that sounds too trivial.

    She's quite old fashioned I think in her stories - which I love in this modern world. I love her characters who are all usually rather too nice but unashamedly so.

    I love how she waves bits of history and culture into her stories. So much more depth then you'd expect.

    I really need to read another of hers soon, I can see.

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  3. Iris: Well, you did order some excellent books, even if they're not exactly comforting!

    Fiona: I think I know just what you mean by "golden-hued", and that's such a perfect way to put it! Also, I did love that Tally was extremely kind and the text made no apologies for it whatsoever. And the historical details are just a delight!

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  4. I've never tried anything by Eva Ibbotson but this isn't the first time I've heard of her and thought I'd better read her books. I think there are always time when we need a book just like this - I will really have to try her books soon!

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  5. I have only read this one, but Journey to the River Sea is on my list next! Thanks for the link love. :)

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  6. You know why I adore you so much, because you read the most diverse kind of books I can ever think of and most of them I would have never heard of, if it were not for you!

    I love your blog too :)

    I am going to add this to my pile :) I know, I just do, that I will love this one :)

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  7. I just finished "The Very Thought of You" which is also (loosely) about the WWII child evacuees. I should read this for comparison, especially since I have been busy composing a 5 word review of The Very Thought of You as "marriage sucks; life sucks; death." Sounds like your book is much better! :--)

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  8. Meghan: I hope you'll enjoy her stuff as much as I have so far!

    Tricia: You're most welcome :D Enjoy Journey to the River Sea!

    Veens: Aw, you are so so nice :D I'm very glad to be of service, and I really hope you enjoy the book.

    Jill: Aaah! I kind of hated The Very Thought of You. With a passion :P I must say your five words sound about right ;) But I look forward to reading your full thoughts!

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  9. Jill is cracking me up today! Marriage sucks, life sucks, death? This one sounds better than that! I like anything WWII, so you have my attention there. I have noticed that Isabele Allende's heroines are all perfect and good at everything. But good writing prevails.

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  10. You've highlighted everything I love about Eva Ibbotson. Her books are so pleasant, so kind, even when they deal with awful things, and she respects her villains as much as her protagonists. And even though her romances, in particular, are set in the real world and devoid of magic, they feel like fantasies.

    I'll be so surprised if you don't like THE SECRET COUNTESS. I've been contemplating a reread myself, since it's been a couple of years and it's such a wonderful, wonderful book.

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  11. The Dragonfly Pool and Journey to the River Sea are my two favourite Ibotsen books.

    Several of her books deal with "alternative" schools and different ways teachers there deal with discipline, creative expression etc. I wonder if she had direct experience of such a school.

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  12. I really need to try something by her... I keep saying I am going to and then never do!

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  13. I bet I would love this book, and despite knowing very little about it, I am going to snatch it up this weekend. I love that a lot of the books that you feature can be shared with my teenage daughter, and later we can talk about them together. Thanks for the excellent review and recommendation, Ana!

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  14. Wow, you've made this sound wonderful!

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  15. I've been meaning to read Eva Ibbotson for a while now. I ordered The Reluctant Heiress at the library, so hopefully it will come in!

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  16. I read and love Journey to the River Sea this is a pick me up for sure! But somehow I lost touch with her after that...I've never even heard of The Secret Countess . I feel so ignorant! Thanks for remedying that!

    --Sharry

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  17. This sounds really good. Wonder why I've not heard of this author before? And I like that cover!

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  18. Although I'm familiar with the name Ibbotson, I haven't read anything by her yet. I have good memories of boarding school so it's always a pleasure to read about them:)

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  19. Wonderful review, Ana! I loved your description of Ibbotson's book - that the heroine is perfect, the villain is complex and the story is realistic. I have to really try my first Ibbotson now! Thanks for the inspiration :)

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  20. I also loved Journey to the River Sea and after reading The Countess Below Stairs I suspect I'm more inclined to become a bigger fan of her children's books than her YA/romance ones.

    I'm really curious about The Star Of Kazan.

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  21. Yay!! I haven't read this one but I'm so glad you're enjoying her :D

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  22. This book seems so lovely. I can't wait to read it.

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  23. I hereby approval-stamp any of Eva Ibbotson's grown-up books too, including The Secret Countess. They're going to be lovely comfort books for you in the future, I promise. I think I like The Dragonfly Pool particularly because it's the most like Eva Ibbotson's grown-up books. Lots of fun and good historical details that I know are things Eva Ibbotson remembers from her own life.

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