Day 7 of 12 Days of Christmas : 7 Swans a-Swimming & Company

swan and cygnets swimmingAt least our heroine’s True Love has shifted from domestic to wild birds with the Day 7 offering. And not just a wild bird but a truly beautiful one, with mythological and poetic pedigree to boot.

The swan is one of the creatures that mates for life, according to legend and, to some extent, ornithological observation. (Not 100%, apparently; but a significant percentage of couples stick together.)

Allegedly it also sings only once, at the point of death – hence the exquisitely mournful Orlando Gibbons motet 

So at last we have here a gift with real subtext: love, loyalty and death. Not that jolly maybe. But certainly romantic. Hmm. Possibly a bit late, given the bird shit that must be surrounding his lady love’s residence by now.


Swan dancer coverToday’s book is one of my favourite comfort reads, by a writer that I have loved as long as I’ve known her books. A Company of Swans  by Eva Ibbotson.

We see Harriet Morton grow out of an over-controlled Edwardian childhood and resolve to escape into the only adventure open to her: joining the corps de ballet of a company about to visit South America. And not just any old bit of South America, but the very edges of the Amazon jungle.

And Harriet has already encountered Henry, a conscientious small boy who is enchanted by adventure and nature and creatures. Henry’s unknown uncle ran away to the Amazon.

cover Company of Swans, olderCan Harriet find him, as well as practising hard, negotiating with her temperamental ballerina colleagues and encountering love and sex and a magical Amazon paradise.

Yes she can.

This is truly a story about growing up, being brave and finding yourself. And falling in love. Harriet makes mistakes, but they are entirely understandable and more experienced people than she is do no better. If she needs a little bit of rescuing, at the end, it is provided by a  hero who has had to struggle and search to reclaim her. And Harriet earned it by her courage and kindness and steadfast truthfulness to her own feelings.


Eva IbbotsonEva Ibbotson was an award-winning children’s writer. Some years ago her publishers decided to “reposition” her more grown-up books for the so-called Young Adult market. I have no problem with that. I love Young Adult books and read them all the time. But don’t let that mislead you.

Harriet’s problems are serious life-changing stuff. The man with whom she falls in love is torn between the hang-over of hope and excitement still left from his youth, and wariness of a sophisticated world he knows only too well.

1983 Winner RNA awardShe was the very best sort of romantic, as she described herself in a lovely piece she wrote about the importance of libraries.

Indeed, she won the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year in 1983 for Magic Flutes, two years before A Company of Swans was published. And, in those days, the covers were aimed at persons of all ages!

Her books invite you to reclaim your own young person, when you were brave and kind and travelled hopefully. Very, very grown-up stuff, indeed.


swans a swimming - manateeThe characters are wonderful. Everyone gets the right ending. So it’s thoroughly satisfying, as well as sometimes surprising. The descriptions of rubber-rich Manaus and the Amazon hinterland are as enchanting – and as down-to-earth – as her account of a ballet dancer’s life and the gruelling challenges of touring in the early years of the twentieth century.

The love story is enchanting. Happy Sigh.

And it has the best and sweetest Manatee that Harriet, or the reader, can imagine.

One for balletomanes, adventurous travellers, wildlife enthusiasts and true romantics everywhere.

7 thoughts on “Day 7 of 12 Days of Christmas : 7 Swans a-Swimming & Company

  1. lesley2cats

    Now you’ve started me on an Eva Ibbotson kick. You’ve done that before, when you MADE me buy a Countess Below Stairs.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Whips? Chains? Locked in a dark room on bread and water? Marched to Waterston’s under escort? The method escapes me.

      But I’m jolly glad it worked. She’s so wonderful.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Oh, you got me with the manatee! Apart from loving ballet stories. Will have to read this one.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Glad I didn’t have to break out the whips with you, Liz. The manatee is pure joy all on her own, quite apart from all the other delights included.

  3. Anne Gracie

    Eva Ibbotson is utterly splendid. Sophie, you were the one who first introduced me to her books, and I fell in love with her stories, her humanity and her delicious wordsmithery. As her books were at that time out of print, I amassed my collection laboriously, buying second-hand copies from the net — usually at exorbitant prices (though still worth it.) Then they were reissued as YA paperbacks, and I bought a set of them, too.

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