The House on Mayferry Street, for Timeslip Tuesday

I'm cheating a little bit with today's Timeslip Tuesday--it's a book I reviewed way back in 2007. But so few people were reading my blog back then, and I'm so very fond of this book, that I thought I'd re-post what I said then (with edits), so as to convince more people to read it. It's The House on Mayferry Street, by Scottish writer Eileen Dunlop (UK title A Flute in Mayferry Street, American edition 1977, recommended for 10-14 year olds, on up...).

There are some children's books that, if you read them for the first time as an adult, seem dull and insipid, yet you know that if you had read them when you were younger, they might have had magic to them. This is not the case for The House on Mayferry Street. I read it for the first time three years ago, and thought it one of the most magical (in the non-spells and fairies meaning of the word) books I've ever read.

The house on Mayferry Street, in Edinburgh, is the large, old, partly empty family home of the Ramseys, 11 year old Colin, his older sister, Marion, and their mother (as well as two tenants). Soon after their father died, a few years before the story begins, Marion was hit by a motor cycle, and now uses a wheelchair. But she won't go out in it, and sits at home, growing increasingly depressed, and giving up hope of ever walking again, despite what the doctors had (almost) promised her.

An old letter from 1914, found while dusting the family bookshelves, brings the first glimmer of interest to her mind for months. In it, a man named Alan asks Charles, a long forgotten Ramsey, to keep for him an old chest...Soon afterwards, an old picture of a young man in uniform is found in a crack in the floorboards, and Marion feels sure it is Alan.

Marion clings to thoughts of Alan and Charles to keep her unhappiness at bay. Colin is happy to go along with her quest for answers about the two young men, as a distraction from his own desperate unhappiness that he himself cannot have a flute of his own. As they unravel the story, clue by clue over the course of the year, the past and the present begin to merge. The music of a lost flute begins to haunt the house, and at last draws Marion and Colin back in time, for a brief glimpse of the boy who had once filled their house with its music.

And in the end, the two modern children find the lost chest, and gain a gloriously happy ending.

This is much more a family story than a timeslip story, although the supernatural elements are central to the plot. The past never overshadows the beautifully drawn characters of Colin and Marion. They are lovable, but allowed to be imperfect and become furious with each other, and to learn from their mistakes. Edinburgh, Mayferry Street, and the house itself are never "described" in a "here is the description" way, but they become real places in the reader's mind. The mystery (leaving out the slippery-ness of time), is perfectly believable. And there is a smidge of romance at the end, which is a nice treat for those like myself who are suckers for sentiment.

Here's another blog review of it, just to show that I'm not alone!

Libraries all over America seem to have bought this book when it came out, just when I would have been the right age for it. Why didn't I read it then???? I would have loved it so very much. But if you haven't read it, it is not too late--all those libraries have now discarded it (except my own, because I keep checking it out), and so you can pick it up on line for a few bucks. It was reprinted in the UK as a paperback in 2000, so is quite available over there.

Eileen Dunlop also wrote Elizabeth, Elizabeth (UK title Robinsheugh), a time slip story that scared me somewhat when I first read it at the age of 8, but which I appreciate more now, and which I will be reviewing at some point...


  1. Yes, you, Tanita, are one of the reasons why I reposted this book, because you would love it and because Dunlop is almost certainly in your local library, being Scottish and all.

  2. It's so sad that so much good fiction from the past (that isn't well-known enough to be considered *classic*, that is) falls through the cracks.. just like the photograph in this novel. Collecting older fiction (even if it's well-reviewed) doesn't seem to be of interest to any public libraries. *sigh*

  3. I feel rather lucky that my local library hasn't agressivly weeded for decades...although on the other hand, there are some real clunkers still on the shelves, and I think I am the only one checking out some of the really good old books.

  4. You like this, you want to try Robinsheugh. Absolutely magical novel

    1. Oh yes indeed, I must get around to reviewing it one of these days!


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