Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

I felt a sudden longing to record…to retain…my everyday life here in Madensky Square. I shall remember my tragedies, my follies and my joys – everyone remembers those. But what of the ordinary things, the little happenings? What of the ‘dailiness’ – who has a care for that?

I think this is the first Eva Ibbotson book I’ve read. I say ‘think’ because it’s possible that I’ve read one or two of her children’s books (Which Witch? sounds very familiar), but this is definitely the first time I’ve read one of her adult or young adult books. Ibbotson is an author I’ve been wanting to try for a long time as so many of the bloggers I follow keep mentioning how much they love her. Madensky Square isn’t one that I’ve heard much about so probably wouldn’t have been the one I would have chosen to start with, but Amazon were offering it as their Kindle Daily Deal a few weeks ago and I couldn’t resist!

The book is set in Austria just a few years before the start of the First World War. Our narrator, Susanna Weber, is a dressmaker with a small but busy shop on Vienna’s Madensky Square. At the beginning of the novel, Susanna tells us that for the next twelve months she is going to keep a journal recording the lives of her friends, her customers and the other inhabitants of Madensky Square. She starts her story in the spring of 1911 and in the pages that follow we meet and get to know the people who populate Susanna’s world.

Being a dressmaker gives Susanna the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from different walks of life. She hears all of their gossip and becomes involved in the various dramas taking place in each of their lives. There’s Frau Schumacher, for example, who already has six daughters and whose husband is hoping for a son to inherit his timber business; how will he react if their next child is another girl? Then there’s Nini, Susanna’s Hungarian assistant, who is an anarchist and needs to decide whether her political beliefs are more important than her chance of love. Others include the Countess von Metz, a proud, sharp-tongued old lady who still loves buying dresses despite living alone and in poverty, the beautiful and very religious Magdalena Winter, and the eccentric Professor Starsky, an expert in Reptile Diseases. There are a large number of characters, but they are all so different and described in so much depth I never had any difficulty remembering who they all were. Some did feel a bit stereotypical (particularly the plain and awkward ‘bluestocking’, Edith Sultzer, and the fat butcher, Herr Huber) but I could overlook that as they were still so well-written and memorable. Even Rip the dog, whose owner sends him out every day with a little purse tied around his neck to buy the newspaper, has a distinct personality of his own!

Susanna herself is a lovely, warm person who others frequently look to for help and advice. However, her own life is no less interesting and complicated than that of any of the other characters I’ve mentioned. She has experienced a lot of sadness and loss in her past, but I don’t want to give too much of her personal story away as it’s only revealed to the reader slowly as the book progresses. Of all the other storylines in Madensky Square, my favourite was the one involving Susanna’s relationship with Sigismund Kraszinsky, a young Polish orphan. Sigi is a talented pianist and his uncle has brought him to Vienna in the hope of furthering his career as a musician, which unfortunately comes at the expense of allowing him to have a normal childhood. The story of how Susanna befriends this lonely, nervous little boy and tries to bring some happiness into his life is one of the most moving of the novel’s many subplots.

I loved reading the descriptions of Madensky Square itself, with its fountain, café and statue of Colonel Madensky, as well as the countryside, the opera houses and all the other places Susanna visits; I especially enjoyed reading about Susanna and Sigi’s trip to the magical Grottenbahn in Linz! I was satisfied with the way the book ended too – it wrapped things up nicely for all the characters we had been following in so much detail and had grown to love and care about over the course of the novel. There are happy endings for some of them, but not for others, which is realistic and more effective than if there had been a fairytale ending for everyone.

I loved this book and I’m hoping that maybe those of you who are Eva Ibbotson fans can tell me which of her books I should try next?

15 thoughts on “Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

  1. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    I am so glad you loved this. Ibbotson is one of my very favourite comfort read authors and I am always thrilled when others discover her. As for what to read next, I heartily recommend all of her adult/young adult novels! The Morning Gift is probably the best but I adore them all: A Countess Below Stairs, Magic Flutes, A Company of Swans, A Song for Summer…you can’t go wrong with any of them. I have read a few of her later children’s books (Journey to the River Sea, The Star of Kazan, The Dragonfly Pool, and One Dog and his Boy) and they were also delightful.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad to hear you would recommend all of her novels, Claire! It’s good to know that whichever one I choose to read next I can look forward to another great read. I’ll look out for the children’s books too.

    • Helen says:

      Sorry you missed the Daily Deal. I’ve been receiving the daily emails from Amazon every day for months and this is the first one that has actually interested me!

  2. Lisa says:

    I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this, which I love, and I think you started with one of her very best books. I’d recommend A Song for Summer next – I can never make up my mind which of those two is my favorite. And among her children’s books, The Star of Kazan is set in almost the same time & place as Madensky Square – almost in the square itself!

    • Helen says:

      This book doesn’t seem to be as well-known as most of her others, so I was worried that it might not be a good one for me to start with – luckily I was wrong! Thanks for the recommendations.

  3. jessicabookworm says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. I haven’t read this one but I really want to now! I don’t think I’ve read a bad book of Ibbotson’s. My particular favourites have been A Song For Summer and The Morning Gift.

  4. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    I have a friend who adores Ibbotson and has been urging me to read her books, but I have resisted because I didn’t think they were my ‘kind’ of book. Your thoughts on ‘Madensky Square’ have led me to think that I was very wrong. It sounds wonderful!

    • Helen says:

      I can’t comment on the rest of her books as I haven’t read them yet, but I really think this one might be your kind of book, Anbolyn. I loved it and can’t wait to read another one!

  5. Christina says:

    Oh, I love Eva Ibbotson! As previous commenters have mentioned, The Morning Gift is excellent. My personal favorite is A Countess Below Stairs, but I might be biased because it was my first Ibbotson. But honestly, they’re all wonderful!

    • Helen says:

      I often find that the first book I read by an author remains my favourite, even if it’s not his or her best. I’m glad to hear they’re all wonderful, though!

  6. Miss Darcy's Library says:

    Oh goodie, another budding Ibbotson fan! I’m so pleased you enjoyed Madensky Square – to my mind, it’s the most mature of her novels. As you said, not everyone gets their Cinderella happy-ever-after ending. My own favourite is A Company of Swans, but A Countess Below Stairs is also wonderful!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think she could definitely become a favourite author! I’m looking forward to reading another of her books. I think almost all of them have been recommended by at least one commenter now!

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