The Autumn People, by Ruth M. Arthur, for Timeslip Tuesday

Ruth M. Arthur (1905-1979) was a Scottish author who I have always thought I should like better than I do.  Many of her books are real-world fantasy, of a time-slipping, ghostly, sort, and I have enjoyed reading those that I have, but none has really convinced me that I should spend real money to collect her complete oeuvre (though I do look for her at library book sales.  I think she's mostly been deaccessioned though; even the Rhode Island library system, which is very good at keeping old books, has only two of her books left....).

The Autumn People (1973) is my most recent Ruth M. Arthur, and it comes the closest to being a book I really enjoyed.  I'm counting it as this week's Timeslip Tuesday, even though it's a bit arguable as to whether there's time slipping back to the past (my opinion) or visits with ghosts in the present (the opinion of the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy)  But the main character says 'I had stepped back into her time..." and that's good enough for me!  Plus I think when there are hot drinks and warm fires involved, you've gone back to the past because ghosts don't usually come with all their furniture etc.

In any event, here's the story--teenaged Romilly and her grandmother are going to travel together to the Scottish Island where the family used to vacation; a cousin now lives in the family house.  Romilly's great-grandmother visited there when she was a girl, and never went back.  There was a tragedy, and Rodger, one of her cousins, died.  Having set this scene up, the book gives an account of the great-grandmother Millie's summer on the island, and how she fell in love with Jocelyn.  But Rodger wanted Millie for his own, and he was evil, and could work dark magic....it ended sadly for Millie.  And now Romilly, following in the footsteps of her namesake, is caught in the unfinished web of Rodger's malevolence.  She finds comfort with "the Autumn people" of the title, Jocelyn's family, come to stay in their old home....and at last, with the help of a local wise woman, is able to lay the curse to rest, and escape Rodger.

So it's a bit ghosty how other islanders can see the lights of the Autumn people, but Romilly goes right inside and it is all how it was years ago, so I call it time travel.

Rodger is a tad overblown in his evil malevolence and torture of small animals; his family just accepts that he's evil and tries to pretend it's not happening.  There is no nuance to his psychopathic behavior, nor is there nuance to the goodness of Jocelyn who is rather colorless as a result.  But the thread of the story tying together past and present is very gripping, and Romilly's horror as she comes under Rodger's sway in the present is nicely done.  I almost liked as much as I hoped I would, but not quite--the fact that all the story is spelled out in the detailed account of the great-grandmother's time on the island removes a lot of the suspense when reading about  Romilly in the present, and there just isn't as much subtlty and atmosphere as the story really calls for.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I loved Ruth M. Arthur's books when I was in elementary school. I have copies of four other titles, but haven't read them in years. This one sounds familiar - I think I must have read it as a kid, but didn't own a copy.


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