Bookworm is a feature whereby I follow a trail of children’s books – linking them by author, illustrator, subject or any other random connection that takes my fancy.
For the next step along the journey, I took a path less traveled, and tracked down a copy of Eve Rice’s only novel, The Remarkable Return of Winston Potter Crisply. An intriguing title, and a nice premise – Potter (as he is known) is spotted by his younger siblings in New York when he should be at Harvard, and they spend the rest of the book following him around trying to find out what he is up to.
So promising… but sadly, the book turned out to be less than remarkable, and Winston Potter Crisply (who really sounded like a character I wanted to know) actually hardly features at all. Well, he’s in the story plenty, but only as someone being watched coming in and out of buildings and talking to people in mysterious tones. You never actually get to know much about Potter beyond what the narrator (Becky) tells us. It seemed a huge shame to waste such an interesting name on such a flat character.
Becky’s character is a tiny bit more interesting, but kind of inconsistent. She’s only 13, but she talks like she’s got a Masters degree, and sometimes as though she were out of the 1950s. OK, the author was trying to tell us that Becky is really smart, but sometimes I think she just forgot that she was supposed to be using the voice of a 13 year old girl, and that’s when her own voice creeps in:
Bloomingdale’s is a rather unmanageable store any day of the week, but on Saturday, it is a veritable madhouse and one would need a pretty good reason to willingly subject oneself to that sort of pandemonium.
Seemingly oblivious to the motley crew he had in tow, potter strolled along, admiring his newly mustachioed reflection…
It is basically Becky’s wild imagination which creates the plot – she thinks Potter is up to no good and slots all the ‘evidence’ into her theory as she goes along. But as a reader, it’s not hard to figure out that things aren’t what they seem – or rather, they are what they seem and not the wild imaginings of a 13 year old girl.
One of the nice things about the book is that it takes the reader all around New York – taking in a lot of the main sights – the New York City Library, the Empire State Building, Central Park, etc. If you can suspend your 2010s disbelief that a 13 year old and a 7 year old are wandering about New York by themselves, it’s quite a nice jolly around the city in the 1970s. But by the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel that it would have been more satisfying if the plot and the language had been simplified slightly (for say a 7+ readership) and if Rice had put in some more of her wonderful illustrations.