The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber is the perfect book to curl up at home with during these bleak days of midwinter. Rich in atmosphere and old-fashioned charm, it’s the story of siblings Lucy and Jamie, newly resident caretakers of a seemingly unoccupied country mansion. Far from being empty, however, the house is inhabited by ghosts and secrets stretching back a century. In this (literally) haunting time slip story of courage, faith and redemption, the children are tasked with righting a terrible past wrong.
We begin on a rain-lashed evening in Camden Town in 1969, where an elderly gentleman passes effortlessly through a throng of commuters, his old-fashioned clothes completely dry, even though he wields no umbrella. This is Mr Blunden, representing a firm of solicitors, on his way to Lucy and Jamie’s home with an extraordinary proposition.
Lucy and Jamie live with their mother in somewhat diminished circumstances. Their father is dead and they are grindingly poor. Eager to escape their impoverished London life, when Mr Blunden asks if they’d like to move to the country and become caretakers of a rundown English mansion, they refrain from asking some obvious questions, such as how he came to alight on them and why he’s spookily familiar with various details about their past.
Instead it is Mr Blunden who asks the most pertinent question.
‘Do you think you would be afraid if you saw…um…er, that is to say, if you saw…a ghost?
Assuring him they wouldn’t be, the plucky siblings are unaware that they’re about to meet a host of them, in an adventure featuring gin-soaked villainy, murder, and time travel.
I’ve been waiting for Barber’s Carnegie Prize shortlisted gem (originally titled The Ghosts) to come back into print for decades. Finally, courtesy of a new film version, here it is, a combination of thrilling drama and wistful strangeness.
A magical modern classic, hopefully neglected no more.
The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber is published by Virago, 256 pages.