Tuesday 14 June 2016

Isaac Campion by Janni Howker Catherine Johnson

I was planning to write about something else this month, but you know how it is. I was going through the bookshelves looking for a book I'd thought I'd recognise by it's blue spine (when I found it, it was orange that's why I had to look all over the house for it) when I found my dog eared old copy of Isaac Campion by Janni Howker.

I stopped, flicked through it and an hour or so later got up, scratchy throated from holding back the tears and totally emotionally floored.

What a gem this little book is. Published in 1986 it's written - like True Grit - in the voice of an elderly person relating his childhood. It didn't win the Carnegie but I think it's one of the finest historical novels written for young people I have ever read.

Isaac Campion's story takes place in his childhood, only as far back as the early twentieth century but a complete and other world. A world where children - according to Isaac only invented after the Great War  -'are merely a damn nuisance and a  mouth to feed until you could do a day's work..'

The world evoked is one of  hardscrabble horse dealers, of the cruelty of men and the casual awfulness of death. This short book is, and for once this is not a cliche, coruscating in it's brilliance, it's utter simplicity and it's heat seeking narrative.

Sometimes I forget what a brilliant writer Janni Howker is. I am now going to make sure I read everything by her all over again this summer. I can't think of a better use of anybody's time.


Ann Turnbull said...

As soon as I read this post I dashed downstairs to see if I could find my copy of Isaac Campion. Thank goodness it was where I expected - next to Martin Farrell. I shall re-read both now that you have reminded me of them, Catherine. I agree, Janni Howker is a wonderful writer, and she seems always to have followed her own true path without worrying about what's in fashion.

Penny Dolan said...

A very fine reminder, Catherine! Thank you.

Celia Rees said...

I loved Janni Howker, too, a very fine writer and one of the people who made me want to write for teenagers. Thanks for the reminder, Catherine. For some reason her books have been almost forgotten.Perhaps that's why when one particular work was published to great acclaim in recent years there was absolutely no mention of Janni Howker's 'The Nature of the Beast' although her book turned on a very similar idea and pre dated that book by decades.

Sue Purkiss said...

I used to teach Badger on the Barge. There were some very special stories in that collection - The Egg Man, and the one about the German prisoner of war - so much to talk about.

Susan Price said...

I've read Martin Farrel and that is wonderful. I will go and look for some others.