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Monday, July 15, 2013

Each of the five books that constitute the Ingo pentalogy, written by  British poet, novelist and children's writer, Helen Dunmore, has been extremely well received by young readers and those of us who can enjoy a good story. Dunmore has won awards for her fiction and her poetry, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Some of her children's books are included in reading schemes for use in schools. Ingo (about an underwater world) is the first book, written way back in 2005, and it was followed over the years by The Tide Knot, The Deep, The Crossing of Ingo and Stormswept. HarperCollins India has recently re-issued all the titles to enable readers to enjoy and pick them up as a collection.

When life throws up situations that cannot be fathomed
In Ingo, Helen Dunmore brings us back to Zennor in Cornwall, her favourite locale for earlier novels. Life is balmy for Sapphire and her brother, Connor, who live with their parents, enjoying what kids of their age do, swimming, surfing and exploring the sea. The two often repair to their own secret cove, which is a good hidden path away, past a cliff and a cluster of big rocks.

However, tragedy strikes when their father goes missing. Connor begins to frequent the place down by the rocks, where he befriends Elvira and Faro, mer people (mermaids). He and Sapphire are introduced to Ingo, a dangerous underwater world, in the depths under the sea, where Elvira and Faro come from.

Sapphire and Connor were sprightly kids, until their world fell apart with the disappearance of their father.  Sapphire, who is the narrator of the story, is a kind, gentle, thoughtful girl, full of hope as she hangs on to her dreams. She can also be stubborn when she has to stand up for what she thinks is right. Connor is the more laid back of the two. Sapphire loves going back into the water because she has more of the Mer in her than Connor, who has more Earth and Air (human traits) in him.

Dunmore's characters are beautifully created, from the mysterious Granny Carne (ancient and knowledgeable) to the mother of Sapphire and Connor, who the kids see as inconsiderate when she tries to build a new life in the absence of her husband, with a certain Roger.

Though the first in the Ingo series, this book can easily qualify as a standalone story, it has a well drawn plot and the characters tend to grow on you and get you engrossed in their life from the very early pages. Ingo introduces us to an alternative universe right around here.

  • Ingo

by Helen Dunmore
Price Rs.299

Diving in after the deeper truths
The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore is the second book in the Ingo Chronicles series and has a lot more to it than the first excursion. Dunmore has a fascinating imagination, and the interplay in this story between life on land and life underwater, and the way Sapphire and her brother Connor, flit from one realm to the other, is just superb. (Tide knot is a phenomenon Dunmore has created that supposedly holds back tidal waters from surging on to land and covering up too much of it. Unique concept.  

Sapphire has a nagging suspicion that her dad did not drown, and sure enough, he surfaces only to warn her of a terrible impending tragedy. She has to rush under water to rescue him, and her Mer blood helps her when she goes down into Ingo. Through it all, she has to look after Connor, and deal with her mother who is busy with Roger, the new man in her life.  This is much more than a children’s book, and most adults would love it. 

  • The Tide Knot

by Helen Dunmore

When love conflicts with instinct
The Deep is the third book by Helen Dunmore in the Ingo Chronicles, and it must be again repeated at the outset that the volume qualifies adequately as a standalone story. Sapphire who, we now know, has a lot of Mer (Sea) in her, is able to go comfortably into the ocean, while Connor is more of an Air and Earth (human) person so not as inclined as strongly as Sapphire to  the ocean.

It is a delight to read Dunmore’s descriptions of the shoreline, and of Sapphire venturing into the Deep, a space that is far more perilous and out of bounds for the Mer people themselves, to prevail upon Kraken to desist from creating trouble for the inhabitants of the ocean. It is Dunmore’s familiarity and knowledge of local folklore and mythical stories that help her create characters and realms that seem so plausible. Sapphire spends more time underwater in Ingo, in search of her father, but keeps getting drawn to land by her earthly connections with her mother, and her dog. 

  • The Deep

by Helen Dunmore
Price Rs.299

We go back into the ocean, from whence we emerged
The Crossing of Ingo by Helen Dunmore is the fourth in the Ingo Chronicles series, and has a lot more movement and plots than the earlier three adventures, with the crossing implying a marathon swim around all the oceans of the world. The story has it that the call draws all the young from Ingo and even Sapphire (Sapphy) and Connor will be swimming in the race. But a character named Ervys is not keen on having them participate or compete because he wants no  ‘human encroachment,’ not even by half-human like our two siblings, polluting Ingo. There is Saldowr who is less xenophobic and sees half bloods could bring about much needed change, and Sapphy and Connor who are half Mer, but with different degrees of humanness holding on to them.  
There is action and adventure as Sapphy, Connor, Elvira and Faro swim off together, avoiding sharks sent after them by Ervys, also killer whales, polar bears and ‘Northern spirits.’  Sapphire is clearly now thinking like an Ingo mermaid than a human being, when she discovers that her father is now a merman with his own mer-family.

  • The Crossing of Ingo

by Helen Dunmore
Price Rs.299

Churning up differences between man, land and sea
Stormswept by Helen Dunmore sees the Ingo Chronicles move on into its fifth (and final?) book. And move on it does to a new pair of protagonists, the 14-year-old twins, Morveren and Jenna. The Cornish locale still dominates, though the story plays out from an island joined to the mainland by a causeway.

When the local populations start a search for survivors of a shipwreck, the twins stumble upon a Mer boy, Malin, lying stranded and injured (in the tail) among the rocks. This story has its own beauty in the emotions and the scenes described, and the conflict between the kindhearted Morveren, who begins to like Malin, and an impetuous Jenna, who is only trouble for them. There is also their kid brother, Digory, seven-years-old, who comes out as very likeable, and can here the music of the waves.  There is also Malin’s mother, who is yearning to get close to her stranded son.

Reminiscent of the kind of conflicts mankind faces today, with all the hatreds among races and groups.

  • Stormswept

by Helen Dunmore

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