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ROOFTOPPERS

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 6 years, 9 months ago

12 October 2013 ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell, Simon and Schuster, September 2013, 288p., ISBN: 978-1-4424-9058-1 

 

"At night the stars put on a show for free

And darling, you can share it all with me

I keep telling you that

Right smack dab in the middle of town

I found a paradise that's trouble-proof

And if this old world starts getting you down 

There's room enough for two up on the roof"

-Carole King and Gerry Goffin (1962)

 

"Sophie crawled to the edge and looked out, across the city.  Paris lay below her; colored in shades of night-blue.  The city was a cross-hatching of roads and squares.  In the moonlight she could see the tops of bright shop awnings -- they were surprisingly dirty, seen from above -- and the concentric circles of two smart gentlemen's hats as they passed.  Top hats looked much less stupid, she thought, seen from a rooftop.  And from up here, she thought, the streets looked like rivers.  The river itself was quicksilver in the moonlight.  The wind shifted, and the wet-hay smell of horses hit her.

"She leaned farther out, and looked straight down.  This was a mistake.  She softly whispered a swear word, and her stomach dropped down into her pelvis.  She found herself retreating rather quickly, and digging her nails into the brickwork of the chimney stacks for reassurance.  She had never been this high up, ever.  The moon looked close enough to hit with a pebble."

 

Sophie is discovered, as a baby, floating in a cello case in the midst of the English Channel, with evidence that it is her first birthday.  She is lifted from the sea by Charles Maxim, one of the survivors of a nearby shipwreck that Sophie, presumably, has also come from.  Charles Maxim is an eccentric scholar with a big heart who decides on the spot that he is going to raise the baby.  He proceeds to do so, at his home in London, over the repeated objections of the huffy and bureaucratic Miss Eliot of the National Childcare Agency in Westminster.   

 

Sophie is an extraordinarily unusual child.  She and Charles make quite a pair, and she adores her guardian as he adores her.  But Sophie also longs for the mother she remembers bits of from before her infant sea adventure.

 

"Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water.  Even paper mothers were better than nothing -- even imaginary ones.  Mothers were a place to put down your heart.  They were a resting stop to recover your breath." 

 

When Sophie is twelve and Miss Eliot instigates a change of agency policy that will require Charles's immediate surrender of the girl to authorities for placement in an orphanage, Sophie discovers evidence that her mother may be from Paris and the pair ignore the pending child welfare order, slip out of London, and travel to Paris in search of Sophie's mother.  Amidst the rising frustrations of dealing with Parisian bureaucrats while trying to track down leads, Sophie heads out from her attic room, through a skylight, to that roof.

 

And it will be because of her foray onto the roof that she meets the rooftoppers -- an assemblage of ragtag orphans living a hardscrabble life on roofs and in trees.  She bets on the slim possibility that they might somehow help her in her mother hunting.

 

There is a lot of buzz about the lovely writing here.  I will readily agree with that.  But what I appreciated even more than its beauty was the repeated subtle humor.  A perfect example is when the pair arrives in Paris and Sophie is checking out a line of carriages for hire:

 

"There was one painted gray and silver that Sophie liked immediately.  The horse matched the carriage, and its face was thinner and wittier than the others'.  It looked like Charles, though Sophie decided not to say so."

 

Then, two paragraphs later, we have Charles noting of the horse:


"'I must say, French horses are very good-looking,' said Charles.  'Paris is making me feel that I should brush my hair.'"

 

I also really appreciate how Sophie is a strong female character, and how so much of that is clearly due to her great relationship with and unusual upbringing by her guardian. 

 

As a life-long fan of attic rooms with lovely views, and as someone who, when younger, spent a fair amount of time hanging out on roofs, I loved being up there with Sophie.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
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