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The Star Tribune: "Gardam's north country has a cheery, salutary effect."

Date: Jan 24 2015

The true hero of this short and charming novel is the wet, craggy farmland near Cumbria. Sheep have grazed here for over a thousand years, one of Jane Gardam’s locals tells us in “The Hollow Land,” and the community reveres tradition. Throughout the nine chapters that span several decades, we see Gardam’s deep affection for the people and their voluminous memories.

The book revolves around the relationship of two families: the resident Teesdales and the Batemans, a London family that leases their farmhouse for the summer. In particular, it is 8-year-old Bell Teesdale and his friendship with “summat younger” Harry Bateman that launches the action. Bell introduces his urban pal to the wonders of country living — the abandoned silver mines (hence the book’s title), the blackberry patches, the eccentric and garrulous people. Eventually the Batemans become winter visitors as well and integrate into the community.

It is surprising to discover in one of the early chapters characters talking about the moon landing because in many respects, the novel’s simple rural pleasures could be set decades, maybe centuries, earlier. This is a world in which boys venture out to collect icicles, farmers proudly ride their tractors along the main street, and the entire community climbs a nearby myth-laden hill to view a solar eclipse.

In the end, Gardam’s north country has a cheery, salutary effect on almost everyone who visits. As Harry tells Bell during a frosty bicycle ride, “London’s not bad … but it’s not exciting.”

TOM ZELMAN