In this post a few weeks ago I wrote about the Green Man Conference, which was held in Trinity College Dublin. One of the keynote speakers was children's author Sally Nicholls, who was talking about her take on the Green Man myth in her second novel Season of Secrets. I enjoyed chatting to Nicholls and have been looking forward to reading this novel for a while now.
Molly's mum has died suddenly of an aneurysm. Unable to cope with his grief and care for two young daughters, her father sends Molly and her tormenting sister Hannah to live with their grandparents. When she tries to run away Molly witnesses a man being attacked in the woods by a dark rider and his baying hounds. Can Molly save the wounded man or will she have to let him go too?
Readers may be struck by the similarity between the premise of Season of Secrets and that of Patrick Ness and Siobhan O'Dowd's A Monster Calls (reviewed here). There is the dead/dying parent, the savage indifference of the natural world, and the visitation by mythical and supernatural figures. Both books bring young readers into a dark and frightening world but the overall effect is cathartic, rather than disturbing. Both books are conceived with admirable sympathy and compassion. Nicholls' novel predates the latter but this is not to suggest that one book is dependent on the other. Rather it points to the appropriateness of the cyclical patterning of the Green Man myth with its natural rhythms of life and death to the theme of bereavement in fiction. Linda Newbery's Lob, for instance, uses the same myth to deal with the loss of a beloved grandparent.
|Author Sally Nicholls|
In Season of Secrets, Nicholls has created two highly memorable characters in dreamy Molly and know-it-all Hannah. Anyone who has ever been driven demented by a sibling will appreciate this dynamic. Younger sister Molly is an avid bookworm who tries to apply lessons learned from her fictional favorites The Famous Five and Tracy Beaker to solve the mystery of the man in the woods. However, she is learning the hard way that things are more complicated than her storybooks would have her believe. In books, she reflects "it's always obvious who's good and who's bad." Real life is far more chaotic and does not offer such reassuring divisions. Nicholls writes:
Everything is simpler, in books. In books, lost fathers always come back from the dead and bullies always get beaten. The sun always shines on your birthday and things always work out right in the end.
For Molly, nothing seems to be working out. She is friendless and as good as orphaned. Hannah's destructive behavior is fraying the nerves of her tolerant grandparents and Molly fears that they will abandon the girls too. Worse still, no one believes her stories about the dying man in the barn, preferring to see it as further evidence of acting out in the wake of her mother's death. However, the changing of the seasons foster Molly's growing acceptance of her loss and comprehension of the necessity of death in the cycle of the world. And while some hurts never fully heal, she too is soon ready to return to the hunt.