The House in Norham Gardens

‘The House in Norham Gardens’ is actually intended as a children’s book but is one of those crossover titles that could – and has been – easily enjoyed by adults of all generations. Set in 1970s North Oxford, the story’s protagonist is 14 year old Clare, who is resigned to living with her two kindly but scatterbrained aunts following her mother’s death. As they become increasingly incapable of maintaining the great rambling old house in which they live on their own, it falls ever more to Clare to ensure its upkeep. Perhaps as a result of this shift in roles and the responsibilities placed on her at such a young age, Clare’s viewpoint on life is not only very mature but often tainted with the dry sense of humour most seen in the observations of an adult.

Although the novel doesn’t feature as much in the way of a plot as many titles, there is a great focus on prose and the atmosphere that permeates the story throughout is unsurpassable. The crux of the storyline is a tamburan (symbolic African shield) Clare finds in the attic, acquired by her great grandfather who had a great interest in anthropology.

Her dreams become filled with the Papua New Guinea tribes who owned it originally and, coupled with the oppressive winter, her curiosity makes it hard to concentrate on her school work. It is only when she meets African student John (who eventually becomes their lodger), whilst on a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, that she begins to shed some light on the ancient relic and piece together an altogether different culture and society than the one in which she lives.

Why not try reading this magical novel and, while you’re at it, paying a visit to where it was set? Norham Gardens itself is a residential road of large Victorian Gothic villas but backs on to University Parks, which makes for a gorgeous riverside walk on a nice day 🙂


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