My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Paul Gallico is a man who understood the art of story-telling not from a modern authorly angle, but rather from its more ancient verbal roots. The two simple tales of ‘The Snow Goose’ and ‘The Small Miracle‘ are beautifully crafted literary gems, with the former being about a hunchbacked artist, his relationship with a wounded goose and his act of bravery at Dunkirk and the latter a ‘contemporary fable’ inspired by St. Francis of Assisi about an orphaned boy and his donkey.
In both stories, Gallico’s writing is so simple and poetic that it demands to be read aloud. There are many scenic passages that I delighted in as he brought out the colours of the settings. In ‘The Snow Goose’, the cold, bleak marshy landscape of the Essex coast was brought to life using language reminiscent of watercolour paintings.
“Tidal creeks and estuaries and the crooked, meandering arms of many little rivers whose mouths lap at the edge of the ocean cut through the sodden land that seems to rise and fall and breathe with the recurrence of the daily tides.”
In ‘The Small Miracle’ the rustic ochres and olive greens of Italy give the story a Quixotic flavour as the young protagonist finds himself on the path to Rome which will eventually lead to the Pope, all for the sake of his beloved little donkey.
“Approaching Assisi via the chalky, dusty road that twists its way up Monte Subaiso, now revealing, now concealing the exquisite little town, as it winds its way through olive and cypress groves, you eventually reach a division where your choice lies between an upper and a lower route.”
I find that good and bad writing can be divided by this simple method of ‘sounding out’ a narrative. When you think about it, almost all stories these days are put together in silence. While the plot may be a good one, it is often the author’s ‘inner ear’ that may let him/her down when it comes to setting a rhythm to the work as a whole. The strong flow of the narrative, it’s sure-footed approach to the story and its clear visuals make this an ideal bedtime book for children. The fact that it also highlights the magical bond between humans and animals makes it a very pleasant alternative to some of the other stuff that is currently out there. Before picking this up, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed seeing animals in stories. A lovely read, highly recommended.