On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.
A book with a quote to live by on almost every page, this majestic novel by Katherine Rundell has already won awards and been nominated for several more, making it a very strong contender for the Carnegie. And it is no wonder really as Rundell delivers a sumptuous story with Rooftoppers!
A one year-old is discovered floating on the ocean waves, a lonely survivor after a shipping accident. Adopted by her rescuer – a British eccentric and true gentleman, Charles Maxim – Sophie is raised to find the possible in even the most desperate situation. Though life is as happy as can be and despite being loved desperately by her guardian, Sophie still feels that something is missing. Convinced that her mother did not drown in the shipwreck that separated them, Sophie travels to Paris with hope in her heart. She enlists the help of the Rooftoppers, a group of Parisian ragamuffins who live in the sky, as she searches for the woman who could make her feel whole again.
There is something unbelievably charming about this book. It whisks you into world of Sophie and the Rooftoppers so perfectly that you never want to leave and feel deep sadness once the pages run out and you have to. The lyrical language is, by far, the strength of this story – Rundell is a magician! Distinctive in its delivery, the narrative voice sings alongside the classics of children’s literature (Streatfeild, Smith and King) yet has a modern humour synonymous with British cinema (namely one Mr Richard Curtis!).
Set in a historical period where girls who wear trousers are considered indecent, the sense of time and place ebbs and flows as the story unfolds and is almost lost as soon as Sophie and Charles get to Paris. Much like other magical lands of fiction, the roofs of France’s capital (an unbelievably romantic setting in and of itself) seem to defy the laws of historical accuracy and yet, instead of enraging, you find yourself melting into the world brought to life on the page.
There is a distance between the reader and the characters, and some may find themselves a little disengaged with the story because of it. Sophie doesn’t really go on an emotional journey but by the end has reinforced the characteristics she had all along. Charles, nevertheless, is my new favourite character – I love him! Any man who can spout phrases like “I am an Englishman. I always have an umbrella. I would no more go out without my umbrella than I would leave the house without my small intestine.” is fine by me!
An abrupt ending may lead you to shed a tear or two (or even have you writing to Rundell to find out what happens!) but I think it was a very fitting end in order to do justice to the characters – if the story was taken any further the fairytale-like quality would become grounded in unnecessary reality, and, when the writing is this strong, nobody could ever want that!