Jane Gardam’s “A Long Way from Verona” has the same British flavor and intensity as her more well known books (Old Filth) and she is one of my favorite storytellers. Ten year old school girl Jessica Vye’s world during World War II includes trying to understand her parents while navigating the expectations of her teachers and friends. Her perspicacious attitude and independent spirit had me cheering for her and wondering about her determination “to always tell the absolute truth.”
When the story opens, a famous writer visiting Jessica’s school tells her she is “beyond all doubt,” a writer, after she gives him some of her work to read. This validation fuels her defiance when her teachers feed her treacle in class, and prompt her to find the classics from Bronte to Dickens and Hardy instead of he class assignments.
Gardam’s supporting cast includes a boyfriend for Jessica, an understanding teacher, and a commiserate friend. An extraordinary scene has her far from home when a bomb explodes, but most of the action revolves around family and school.
When I saw this slim volume in one of the last bookstores in my neighborhood, I decided it would fit neatly into my carryon. As I am about to land in Gardam’s home turf of Britain, her language and wit have been the perfect segue to the beginning of my British adventure.