Author: Edith Nesbit
My rating: 3 of 5
The Bastable children (all six of them) are aware in a vague sense that their family’s fortunes have fallen: there isn’t pocket money for them anymore, expensive treats are missing from dinner now, they’ve been pulled out of their school on a long-term holiday, and their father seems to spend nearly all his time at work now. And being bright, clever children with lots of spare time on their hands and no mother living to keep them in check, the six siblings determine to seek out a treasure in order to restore their family’s fortunes. Only, they can’t decide quite how to go about the business. Noel thinks he should either sell poetry or marry a princess (maybe both). Oswald thinks they ought to be highwaymen, which Dora (the eldest) disapproves of very strongly. Alice wants to try using a divining rod. In short, everyone has an opinion, and no one agrees . . . and so it is decided that they will try out each of their ideas in turn to see if any of them will work.
I’ve always enjoyed Edith Nesbit’s writing, ever since I first discovered The Railway Children when I was in middle school. Her writing is, naturally enough, a bit old fashioned (being that she wrote in the late 1800’s), but her writing is just the sort of children’s adventure that always feels timely and homey. She understands children very, very well. (Not to mention that her writing was hugely influential on any number of more recent authors, including C. S. Lewis, and has thus, in a sense, passed into contemporary literature more than we’re aware.) In any case, although I generally love her writing without reserve, I am of two minds regarding The Story of the Treasure Seekers, which I just read for the first time. The premise is absolutely smashing, and her execution of it is brilliant–at once both touching and highly amusing. The Bastable children are highly developed as characters, perhaps more so than in most of her other books. And I think this is where the story got off on the wrong foot for me. Because, you see, Oswald is the one telling the story. And he’s remarkably well written. As a twelve-year-old boy who thinks rather too well of himself, who is falsely modest, and who is at times shockingly sexist. Not to mention, he’s trying to hide his identity for most of the book, only he keeps forgetting himself and referring to himself in the first person–exactly the blundering, cute attempts a kid would make, and it really is brilliant, but it’s also annoying to read. I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if, say Noel or Alice had been telling the story, especially Alice with her fierce determination and loyalty. I guess I would leave reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers up in the air regarding recommending it or not; it’s a classic, but don’t judge all of Nesbit’s writing by this one book. I’d really recommend reading Five Children and It before trying this one.
Note: Although I have a Puffin edition pictured here, this book is old enough it’s public domain. You can get an electronic copy for free at Project Gutenberg if you just want to try it before committing to anything.