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Posted July 5, 2011
Have you been hearing some of the dire predictions about the possibility of our economy's crashing? How do you think that you would react if something like that actually happened? Sixteen-year-old Barry Mortimer lives in an English Midland city with his father Norman, a former army officer who is now a shoe store manager; mother May; older sister Agnes (Nessie) who turns eighteen during the course of the story; younger brother Geoff, who is fifteen; little sister Ellen; and Ellen's dog Peggy. The book begins in September, and Father suddenly moves his family from their small semi-detached house in the city to a large, old mansion, like a fort or castle, named Rose Grove in the Mount, a suburb. Why?
Believing rumors about an impending economic collapse brought on by hyperinflation, Mr. Mortimer becomes obsessed with secretly buying all the supplies that he possibly can and hoarding them in the old house in order to provide for his family during the hard times ahead, when he envisions the likelihood food shortages, rising unemployment, riots, the development of a black market, rationing, price controls, and even government censorship and propaganda. One of the children says it reminds him of Noah's ark and another replies that it is more like Noah's castle, hence the title. Unfortunately, in the process Father seems to be driving the rest of his family, all except Geoff, farther and farther away from him. The events of the winter through the following spring are told by Barry, who is forced to choose between his compassion for others and his sense of duty to his father. When hoarding is declared illegal, what will Mortimer do in the face of a former employer who comes to sponge off the family, nosy neighbors who seem to be spying on them, and increasing reports of raiders who break in homes to steal food?
Author John Rowe Townsend notes that when the book was translated into German, it was published as science fiction which, once it gets past the zap-the-aliens level, is based on the question, "What if.?" There are no "aliens" in the book, but drawing from the hyperinflationary period of Germany prior to World War II, Noah's Castle answers the question, "What if the currency crashed and money became worthless, what would happen then?" However, the book is not just a story about hyperinflation but is designed to raise questions about economics, morality, charity, and loyalty. It does not give easy answers but will spur many spirited discussions. Townsend says of the book, "But it's not a pessimistic one; it ends with spring and hope, and I believe in that ending." It was quite an interesting story to read. The plot flows well, and there is good characterization. And, especially in the current economic climate, it will make you think.
Posted August 7, 2010
I really enjoyed this book because it feel so terrifyingly real. It raised some thoughtful questions and I can't say what I would do in the same situation. The setting is interesting. It never gives a date, so really it could be in the past, happening now, or sometime in the future. It's reads more like historical fiction for me. I felt the story takes place sometime right after the world wars. I think this is because of some of the chauvinistic attitudes of the men in the story (woman's place is in the kitchen, children should be seen and not heard).
I was surprised at how intense the characters were. Granted, I think the most developed are the males. But, I think that's the point. In this story, it's a man's world. I really disliked Barry's father. Although, I understood his actions and even appreciated the reasons behind them. I just wish he wasn't so secretive and treated his wife a little (or a lot) better. Barry himself was a very thoughtful young man. You could really seem him struggle with protecting his family (especially his father) and wanting to do what was right in his eyes. I think my favorite character was Nessie and I wish we got more from her in the story.
The story is well thought out. As more and more people find out what is going on in the household, you can't help me feel very apprehensive of what might happen. I can't imagine having to make the choice of making sure my family is provided for or providing for a population that is struggling beyond true comprehension. I think that is were the story lack a little. It just touches the surface of how others are handling the ordeals faced them. I think it's toned down a lot for the intended audience. Overall, I think it's a book that will really make you think. Having a family of my own, I can see both Barry and his father's points of view.
Posted July 28, 2010
This book was originally published in 1975, went out of print, then was brought back and republished by October Mist. I think it's important to keep that in mind while reading, as while most of the book stands the test of time, there are parts which are a little dated. Most glaringly, the father's attitude towards his wife and daughters. Yes, he's a bit sexist, but so were a lot of men during that time period. Just look back to the television commercials in the 70s for proof. I've seen a few reviewers not be able to get past the father's attitude, so think it's important to keep things in context.
That being said, I thought that this was a good read overall. It's as relevant now as it was back then, because I think we're all only a few steps away from having our whole world come crashing down. This boils down to a father trying to take care of his family and prepare for a coming crisis. Should he have consulted his wife before buying a new house and bringing in supplies? I think so. But he seems to be the sort of man who considers himself the king of his castle, and thinks it's his job to take care of his family. Could he have handled things better? Absolutely. But in the end, I think he did what he thought was best in order to take care of his family.
One of the things I found most interesting about this story was how normal society started to break down in the midst of a crisis. We like to pretend we're civilized, but when threatened, people start to show their true colors. I liked the characters of Cliff and Stuart, who still wanted to do what was right and take care of their fellow man. Very noble. Would I be that noble? I'd like to think so, but I might wind up like Barry's dad and want to take care of my own first.
Gave this book a 3/5 rating as I liked it. I think a 3/5 is a good rating and worth reading, so please give this one a chance! Was well written, though a little dated in spots. Made me think but I didn't find it overly preachy, which is always good. I didn't really like the main characters, and was more sympathetic to secondary characters like Cliff, Stuart, and Terry. Had mixed feelings about Barry, the narrator. He was a teenager with ideals, which is not a bad thing, just not the best thing during a crisis. His heart was in the right place, but I don't think he handled things as well as he should have. None of the characters did. That's one of the things that made this story interesting.