Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt

Title: The Eyes of the Amaryllis
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Genre: Children's
Publisher: Square Fish
First published: 1977
Pages: 136

Rating: 5 out of 10

In this fable-like tale, a girl named Jenny goes to visit her odd grandmother over the summer. Years ago, Gran's husband drowned at sea when his ship, the Amaryllis, sunk with no survivors. Nevertheless, she walks the beach every day, hoping for a sign, or for something to wash ashore to truly convince her that he is gone. Jenny helps her grandmother on these nightly beach-combings, where they occasionally come across an eerie man named Seward. When they finally do find something, Gran is overjoyed, but it seems that Seward, and the sea, want it back.

Before I launch into all of the bad, I must say that I did like the fairytale feel that this book has to it. Almost-ghosts and forgotten shipwrecks and treasure hunting a sea with a mind of its own? It sounds like perfect material to me. The children's perspective was also charming, though I think that the simple writing was also a major part of this books downfall.

Things are written quite abruptly. Maybe Babbitt was trying to shorten her book, or keep things going quickly, but many events seemed to be brushed over in a cursory manner, giving me the impression that they weren't all that important. This especially shows in the conversations, which never last more than a few paragraphs, and always cut straight to the point.

The biggest problem with this book was, in my opinion, the way that it simply doesn't seem believable. Gran is waiting for something to wash up on her beach from the Amaryllis - anything at all, a button, or a piece of timber from the ship, perhaps. But this didn't make very much sense to me. The Amaryllis didn't sink right offshore, it sunk hundreds of miles away. The possibility of anything from the wreck washing onto that particular little beach, out of all the beaches, is virtually an impossibility. Also, even if a button or a rope or scrap of wood did wash ashore, how would anyone have any way of knowing what ship it came from? Gran does tell us that she doesn't think it will be an accident for something to wash ashore, but "a sign." She keeps calling it a sign, over and over. But what does she mean? A sign of what, from whom?

There were more aspects of the story I found unlikely, such as Nicholas Irving's tale of seeing the sunken Amaryllis, or the fact that the part of the ship that meant the most to Gran just happens to be the one that drifts ashore.

Maybe I am being too factual and not allowing myself to see the fairytale elements of the story. Of course the things that happen to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and those people aren't likely, but they make a good story.
Besides essentially finding myself unable to believe in the story, it did have a certain charm to it, like all of the best children's books do. Probably a better read for children than adults.