The Castle Boy, by Catherine Storr, for Timeslip Tuesday

When I was nine or so, living in the Bahamas in the late 1970s, I got to read lots of English children's books which gave me a taste for them that has lasted to this day.  One of these, Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, remains one of my favorite books (it is one of the most deliciously creepy books I know). Once internet book shopping became a thing, I gradually acquired her other books, and this year for Christmas I was given The Castle Boy (1983, so not even published when we left the Bahamas...). Sadly, Marianne Dreams seems to be Storr's best work, but The Castle Boy is a solid time travel story, even if I didn't fall hard for it.

Robert has an ordinary family (parents and a big sister, Coral) and the ordinary English childhood of a not well off kid in the mid 20th century. His father was a hero in WWII, but never adjusted well to civilian life, and the relationship between him and his family is strained. Then Robert's well-off uncle offers them a 2 week stay in a castle in the north of England. Robert's imagination is set on fire...only to be squashed by the Victorian reality of the "castle" hotel.

But there was once a real castle there, and Robert finds that there are still bits of it here and there. And when he touches these bits, he slips into the past--a place of medieval strangeness where he feel surprisingly at home. But he seems almost invisible to the people there, and, tired of the strain between his parents and his big sister's romantic yearnings, and tired too of the shadow of his epilepsy, and of a life lived with his mother's constant worrying, he longs to somehow belong more fully.

When he realizes that this is impossible, and that because he has epilepsy he is distrusted and avoided by the castle folk, his heart almost breaks. And then real world tragedy strikes, rather conveniently removing the problem of the unsympathetic father from the picture, and the family, sans father, all go home again. Possibly Robert has grown up a bit, but not much.

Robert's desire to belong to a place and a life not his own is not without emotional resonance, and his exploration of the way the time travel work is likewise not without interest, and there's a bit of plot happening in the past that almost makes the castle time come alive to the reader. But there wasn't quite enough of any of these things to make the book sing for me; I felt a bit teased by what I got and wanted more. And I didn't care much for the big sister and her romantic entanglement with one of the hotel staff, and the father's sudden death was a rather drastic way to resolve the family's tensions. 

More troubling was the believable but unfortunate reaction of Robert when he meets someone in the past with a cleft palate--he is horrified and repulsed. When he realizes that medieval attitudes toward disabilities, like his own, dehumanized people, he tries intellectually to see this woman as a person, but doesn't quite succeed. It was odd--like he was given this big character growth opportunity by the author, tying it in to his own realizations that he was being shunned in the past, and wouldn't be able to be a pilot like he wanted to in the present, and then not making much progress growth-wise at all. 

So though I liked many things about the book, it's not one I'd actively recommend to anyone whose not a 20th-century British time-travel for kids completist.


  1. Killing off a parent to solve the MC's problem, does seem a bit extreme. I am not familiar with this author. If I decide to give her a try, maybe Marianne Dreams would be a better choice for me. Thanks for the review.

  2. Coincidentally, you are likely surrounded by 20th century British time-travel for kids completists. I haven't read this one but agree Storr's non Marianne Dreams books are not as captivating. Similarly, Penelope Farmer's non Charlotte Sometimes books always disappoint me. Ruth Arthur never disappoints, although some A+++ vs B+++.

    1. Have you read Mark and Marianne? I have never been as disappointed with a book in my whole life. Agree viz Penelope Farmer, but I am not as much an Ruth Arthur fan as you; some I like lots but not all.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles