The Society of Authors Translation Prizes will be awarded this coming Thursday (10.2.2022). I had intended to shadow the biennial Vondel Prize Shortlist in time for this, but got distracted. Still I’m starting now, since the list chimes perfectly with #ReadIndies, as the entire shortlist is published by independent publishers! Between now and 2022 Dutch Book Week (deferred until mid-April) I’ll read and review them all.

First up, the children’s title on the list, and one of two titles published by Pushkin Press.

Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson

In this interview, the translator described Lampie as “a joy to translate”. Well, it was a joy – an absolute joy – to read as well. I sat down to read for half-an-hour … after which I decided the housework could wait. As did everything else until I turned the final page. I was transported into a world of classic storytelling, a tale with a beginning, middle and an end. No tricks, or gimmicks. After all a story of children dealing with adults behaving badly, monsters, mermaids and pirates, doesn’t need them. 😉

Lampie lives alone with her one-legged father in a lighthouse. As he finds it difficult to climb the steps, Lampie is tasked with ensuring the lamp is lit each night (hence, her name) … and ensuring that there are matches to do it with. But there are so many distractions by the sea, and a forgetful girl’s head is already so full of “songs, stories, things she has to learn” that the inevitable happens on the very day that a big storm is brewing. Disaster strikes leading to her father being locked in the lighthouse (for seven years to pay for the ship that was wrecked) and Lampie being sent to work in The Admiral’s Black House, where there is allegedly a monster in the tower ….

There she meets Martha, the housekeeper, and Lenny, her son, a young man with learning disabilities (who ends up knowing more than most). And Nick, the handyman, who is never there when work beckons, but always there when you need him most. And of course, the “monster” in the attic, who isn’t a monster at all, but a ? in dire need of liberation.

Lampie’s harsh life with her embittered father have given her the patience and understanding to deal with Edward (or Fish as she nicknames him). Their mutual acquaintance is beneficial for both and leads to an adventure quite beyond either’s imagining!

I shall say no more regarding plot for fear of spoilers. A little more, however, about the fairytale feel. Not just because of the mermaids and pirates. There may be no wicked witches or stepmothers, but there is a schoolteacher, who isn’t entirely benevolent. Lampie’s father has major flaws, a violent temper and he hits the bottle far too frequently. But the real villain – the one I grant you licence to boo when he appears on the page – is the Admiral.

For storytelling that made me forget current realities Lampie cannot be beaten. More charm is added with the author’s double-page illustrations, which begin each section, and the seashells at the start of each chapter.

The Black House

Annet Schaap is primarily an illustrator and Lampie is her first novel.

If I haven’t yet convinced you of what a cracking story (and translation) this is, this should swing it: In 2020 Lampie was the first translated novel ever to be longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

Pushkin Press was founded in 1997. It all started with the Pushkin Collection, those iconic square paperbacks with french flaps, 70 of which adorn my shelves. There are now 3 further imprints: Vertigo for crime, ONE for original English language publishing, and Pushkin Children’s Books, founded in 2013.

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