Reviews /

The Tale of Truthwater Lake

Authored by Emma Carroll
Published by Faber & Faber

Emma Carroll is a household name when it comes to children’s fiction, and children’s historical fiction in particular. The Tale of Truthwater Lake is as refreshing, thoughtful and beautifully written and crafted as its predecessors. Set both in 2032 and 1952, the novel observes our interactions and relationships with our environment, as the villagers in 1952 see their homes intentionally flooded to make way for a reservoir, and the residents of 2032 face lockdowns owing to the heatwaves for as Polly, our main character, observes, ‘…droughts in Sudan, rising sea levels in the Bahamas, footage of flooded homes and starving people and animals. There’s no denying we’ve made a mess of our planet’. While the environment of 2032 might be hostile, the novel is clear in its notion that in both 1952 and 2032 people remain beautifully complex and compassionate. In 2032 and in 1952 characters are anxious about returning to school, their precarious situations in the face of their mothers’ health/death, about managing and maintaining friendships and, of course, uncovering different secrets and mysteries.

In 2032 during the summer holidays, Polly and her brother, Joel, are sent to stay with their Aunt Jessie who lives by a lake, only the lake has almost dried up, revealing the old stone walls of the previously submerged village of Syndercombe, a ‘lost kingdom, a ghost village’. When Polly, too hot and anxious to sleep, goes to swim in what’s left of the lake, she finds herself transported back to 1952 Syndercombe and into the body of Nellie. Nellie and her best friend Lena have been taken in by the kindly Ma and Pa Blackwell, Lena has been sent from London to recover from TB in the fresh farm air, and Nellie is living with them after the death of her mother. Polly finds them playing games and trying to work out one of the novel’s mysteries: who places the yellow roses on the grave each month?

The novel moves thoughtfully from the 1950s village where people relied on letters, the girls ride horses across the fields, and the main competition is centred on swimming across the Channel, to the 2030s where social media tracks all relationships and movements (including a disastrous swim for Polly) and families are kept indoors by the heat. This is not, by any means though, an instructive novel about how things were better in the good old days, both periods have their ups and downs, and both Nellie and Polly have much to navigate and much to celebrate.

This will make an enjoyable, informative and unforgettable independent read, but it would make an even better whole class read for Upper Key Stage Two. The novel offers countless opportunities for further discussion, to contrast past and future considering the similarities as well as the differences, to observe the human impact on our environment, but also to discuss friendship and empathy. The story makes many pleasing nods to Philippa Pearce’s classic novel Tom’s Midnight Garden, both Tom and Polly time travel while away from home in the summer holidays and both, rather touchingly, in the end, connect with the older people in their community whose voices might otherwise have gone unheard. The Tale of Truthwater Lake is a must read that promises to stay with you for a very long time.