The latest edition of my Museums in books series sees us go back in time to 1954 with Malcom Saville’s The Long Passage. We’re taking a trip to the seaside, to Brighton to explore the Royal Pavilion and its secrets. From the title, anyone with a scant knowledge of the building can assume we’re likely to visit the secret tunnels underneath the palace Does it count as a spoiler if it’s mentioned on the blurb?
Saville’s work places a particular emphasis on location, and The Long Passage makes it very clear we’re in Brighton. The Pavilion is used initially as set dressing, something to see on the way to the pier. In the exposition dump we get early on in the book, the protagonists’ father gives a thorough description of the town and its amenities.
He lingers on the Pavilion:
‘”No Simon. Not a cricket pavilion, although the Sussex County Cricket Club is in Hove, the big town joined to Brighton on the west. The pavilion of which I speak is the fantastically beautiful Royal Pavilion – a golden building with domes and minarets set down in lovely lawns a few hundred yards from the seafront in the very heart of Brighton…”
The father character continues on. And on. And on. More description, a bit of history thrown in. We get it, Saville did his research! The father character incidentally, is an author who is planning a story set in the town. I like it when writers write about writers trying to write.
We don’t see the Pavilion in the flesh for quite a while (pg 48 to be exact) and this is how it is shown to us:
‘”It’s like the Arabian Nights,” Juliet said. “It doesn’t look real with its golden domes and minarets.”
“I don’t think I want to go in now,” Simon remarked, “I’m sure it’s all very interesting but I’m not too keen on museums. I expect Dad will take us and I hope it’s on a wet day when we can’t do anything else.”
Juliet gets romantic in her imagery, but Simon isn’t bothered. He sees it as an inevitable that he’ll be dragged in there at some point. It’ll be a last resort activity after all other avenues of diversion have been exhausted.
Needless to say, I probably wouldn’t have got on with Simon.
And that’s all we really hear about the Pavilion for a while. It pops up to remind us we’re in Brighton, all the while lurking in the background.
After various shenanigans and 140 or so pages, the building that graces the cover suddenly becomes important again.
‘”Get in front of those people, and let’s go in there too,” Simon gasped. “We’ll be safe inside. He won’t dare to do anything to us in front of a crowd”‘
On the run from the villain, the children seek shelter in the museum. It becomes a refuge, a place of safety for a while. Now, I would’ve disguised myself further by hiding in the crowd but Simon and Juliet have to push to the front… to get a better view of the inside perhaps?
‘A brisk businesslike looking man with a bald head, heavy rimmed spectacles and wearing khaki shorts, who was just in front of them turned round and said “No need to buy a guide, my boy. I know this place well….Don’t often see youngsters here by themselves.”‘
Urgh, grown ups ruin everything. Even being on the run from a villain. He’s probably the reason youngsters avoid the place. Our characters, take an instant dislike to this man, especially after he dismisses the other visitors as ‘ignorant.’ He’s the worst. He even gets in a competition with the villain, trying to one-up him with facts about the Pavilion.
‘”I believe it to be printed in the guide book,”‘ he quips. The worst.
I don’t blame them.
It’s sad how one person can really ruin a visit.
Eventually we get to the titular passage, and again we return to the idea of a museum as a place of safety, as it’s a way to escape both the awful man and the villain. Phew. I bet Simon is glad he went in the Pavilion in the end, even if it wasn’t a rainy day.