After visiting the castle in Scotland which her family has inherited and returning home to Canada, twelve-year-old Emily finds that she has accidentally brought back with her a boggart, an invisible and mischievous spirit with a fondness for practical jokes.
Original publication date
Perhaps it is because many of us, like Emily and Jessup Volnik (age twelve and ten, respectively), have had past, or present, experience with parents, and other adults, who do not understand that some things, as with the “virtual unicorns” in Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters, have to be believed to be seen. Like L’Engle’s unicorns, the boggart of Cooper’s novel is not readily visible to human eyes (unless he chooses to be so), yet he, and his actions, have very definite—and, in Toronto, rather innocently malicious turned inadvertently dangerous—effects on his surroundings and the people living there. Effects that the Volnik sibling’s parents, and others in the city, attribute to Emily, despite both her and Jessup’s frantic assertions to the contrary.
This experience, of being disbelieved despite telling the truth, is one that many people have in common, and in combination with the boggart’s mischievousness and nearly palpable homesickness, and the believably sympathetic (or not so sympathetic, in the case of the psychologist interested in Emily) characters, makes The Boggart a book that is well-worth the read.
Susan Cooper is not an uncommon name in the library circuit, best-known, perhaps, for her Dark is Rising series, this book was not only my introduction to her, but a staple through elementary school and something I revisited off and on thereafter. Until only a month ago, however, I did not own it. Thank God for little second-hand bookstores filled with unexpected treasures, right? Right.
While all of the humanoid characters are pleasant and relatable, one of the most enchanting aspects of this novel is the depiction of the boggart itself, within its home castle. A nameless, genderless spirit thousands of years old, witness to history itself, not only of the castle but the land surrounding. It is, in a sense, emotionless. Yet, at the same time, when it finds an emotion, it is overcome--to the point of hiding and sleeping for days or weeks [it has the ability to sleep for decades, if the fancy strikes]. Without being human in feeling, the creature manages to be easy to connect with. Especially after the charm of the new world wears down to the nub.
The story is deliberately paced, walking the reader through introductions and establishing the settings while steadily moving through the the plot. As with other texts that were favorites from childhood, this did not hold up quite as well as I might have hoped. Aside from being heavily dated technology-wise [the desk-top was a black and white screen, and I have a splendid recollection of DOS programs that supply amusing filler for how it must have been intended to appear], the text is almost too simple and too easy to read to be enjoyable at advanced leisure reading. Not being a particularly difficult novel, it is not something that a reader will have to dig through, but rather glide along. Though I mentioned I enjoyed it years afterward, I would say it was as a refuge from the reading or scholastics at the time. For purely 'heck, I'll read that one again' material...it's lacking.
But if you haven't experienced it, Cooper is fun. Someday I'll read that Dark is Rising series and really get what she's about as a published writer. Or something like that. If you're in fourth or fifth grade, it might just be something you'd enjoy.
The Vonik family, Emily, her 10 year-old-computer-nerd brother Jessup, parents Maggie and Robert live in Toronto, Canada. When a cable arrives from Scotland informing them of Robert's inheritance of Castle Keep from a distant uncle, the Voniks take a trip to find out exactly what this inheritance is.
The family arrives to find Castle Keep is a small, deteriorating structure on its own small island in the Western Highlands of Scotland. They fall in love with the area and the life, but do have to return to Toronto. Rober is the artistic director of the Chervil Playhouse and Maggie owns Old Stuff, an antiques shop.
The family brings back some furniture item for themselves and some to sell in Maggie's shop. Unbeknownst to anyone, the Boggart has also come to Toronto. Seems he fell asleep in a desk that is to go in Emily's room.
When the Boggart awakes, he finds that Toronto is nothing like the world he has lived in for the many centuries of his life. This new world is scary and yet there are many delightful things. He sets about pulling his old tricks to amuse the Voniks, but finds that the world he is now in has no clue to what and who he is.
Will the Boggart stay forever in Toronto, or will he be able to return to Scotland and Castle Keep?
This was a fast read for me, but I took my time just to enjoy it. I found I cringed at some of the pranks the Boggart played, knowing they wouldn't go over well, and yet I wished I could have seen them.
While visiting their inherited castle in Ireland, the Volnik family mistakenly traps and takes the castle's boggart back to Canada with them. Strange occurrences begin to happen from the moment of the boggart's delivery and the family becomes more and more stressed out by these increasingly unexplainable happenings.
This was a quick, fun read that I would recommend for 4th through 6th graders. There is no really objectionable material and only some mild violence. I found the storyline to be engaging and not your typical run-of-the-mill ghost story. The author does a nice job of allowing the reader to become sympathetic towards the main characters including the boggart and there is some good humor included throughout the novel.
at this moment i give what i've read of the book a solid "meh" with tendencies towards "nevermind."
As you might expect, the computer parts of the story are solidly 1993, and some of the specs mentioned will give savvy modern readers a good laugh. Moving beyond that, it's obvious that Cooper is a master of her craft: the descriptions, the relationships between characters, and the emotion of the piece is spot on. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.
The Boggart's main problem is ending up with a family who doesn't believe in magic. As the castle didn't come with instructions re magical beings, his pranks both at the castle and later in in the Volnik's home go unnoticed at first. Rather than stop (as that's not in its nature) he resorts to bigger and bigger pranks until they become dangerous!
Although the book is dated (especially in terms of the computer hardware that's central to the plot) it's still an enjoyable read. I listened to it on audio and found myself sucked right in.