Wednesday 16 April 2014

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating
in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.
It was the only living thing for miles. Just the baby, and
some dining-room chairs, and the tip of a ship disappearing
into the ocean. There had been music in the dining hall, and
it was music so loud and so good that nobody had noticed
the water flooding in over the carpet. The violins went on
sawing for some time after the screaming had begun.
Sometimes the shriek of a passenger would duet with a high
The baby was found wrapped for warmth in the musical
score of a Beethoven symphony. It had drifted almost a mile
from the ship, and was the last to be res- cued. The man who
lifted it into the rescue boat was a fellow passenger, and a
scholar. It is a scholar's job to notice things. He noticed that it was a girl, with
hair the colour of lightning, and the smile of a shy
240 pages in paperback
Published March 2013 by Faber & Faber
Summary from publishers
Everyone tells Sophie she was orphaned in a shipwreck. But Sophie is convinced her mother also survived. When no one believes her, Sophie sets out to prove them wrong. On the run from the authorities, Sophie finds Matteo and the other rooftoppers - children who live in the
sky. In a race across the rooftops of Paris, will they help her find her mother, before it's too late?
A story about pursuing your dreams and never ignoring a possible.
By the time this goes out, I would expect Katherine Rundell to have at least won one more award for her second novel. I won’t list them – but they are well-deserved.
As you can see from the lovely cover, it involves Paris and rooftops – though these come relatively late to the story. The chief joy of the book isn’t the adventure story – though that is great fun, nor is it the wonderful language (of which more later) but the central relationship of Charles and Sophie. 
Eccentric, engaging and rather touching, you would have to be a bit of a meany not love this odd sort-of parent-child bonding. It is a delight – and the language and its humour are so much a part of it. There’s something of the lightness and spirit of ‘I Capture the Castle’ or even ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, with a generous pinch of P. G. Wodehouse to boot. A delicious mixture, which stops Sophie’s central quest to find her mother ever becoming mawkish or sentimental.
It’s not difficult to read but there is definitely no talking down to younger readers. It is suitable for anyone reasonably confident –especially if they are prepared to look up the odd unfamiliar word. 
As a writer, I was impressed how Ms Rundell held her nerve right to the very end. It has the feel of a future classic – and though there is no obvious magic in it, it is enchanting. You will probably enjoy this if you like a family story with adventure and heart – and you are not expecting either violence or romance.

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