The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

The Morning Gift This is not the first Eva Ibbotson novel I’ve read – I have previously read Madensky Square and The Secret Countess, both of which I enjoyed – but I’ve been particularly looking forward to this one as so many Ibbotson readers speak so highly of it.

The novel opens in Vienna and introduces us to Ruth Berger, the twenty-year-old daughter of a professor of Zoology, whose life revolves around music, nature and her cousin Heini, the concert pianist she has always expected to marry. When the Nazis invade Austria in 1938, Ruth and her family are forced to flee but while her parents make it to safety in London, Ruth is left behind due to a problem with her student visa. A friend of her father’s, the British scientist Professor Quinton Somerville, comes to the rescue with the suggestion that Ruth marries him as a way of getting to London. Once Ruth is safely in England, the marriage can be annulled.

Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned and dissolving their marriage of convenience proves to be harder than they expected. Ruth becomes a student at Thameside University and finds herself in Quin’s class where it will be impossible for them to avoid each other as the lawyers have advised. While she and Quin struggle with the growing attraction they feel for each other, another complication arrives in the form of Heini who has made his way to England and expects Ruth to marry him as soon as possible. Will Ruth and Quin’s secret marriage be discovered?

The Morning Gift is a lovely, romantic story; it took me a while to get into it as the beginning was quite slow, but I became completely absorbed in the story somewhere in the middle and although it was really quite predictable, I still didn’t want to stop reading until I’d found out how things would end for Ruth and Quin. But there is more to this book than just the romance; among other things, it also offers insights into what life was like for a family who escaped persecution in Austria just in time and took refuge in London. This aspect of the novel is based on the author’s personal experiences – her own mother had to flee Vienna and Eva joined her at Belsize Park in London, where the Berger family live in the novel.

I also liked the academic setting and all the little scientific references that are dropped into the story as Ruth studies for her Zoology degree. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the field course at Bowmont, Quin’s estate in Northumberland. Ruth takes genuine pleasure in the natural beauty of her surroundings – the waves tumbling against the cliffs, the smell of vanilla drifting from a gorse bush, the sound of a curlew calling – and I loved seeing the Northumberland coast through her eyes.

I liked both Ruth and Quin, but there’s also a good selection of strong secondary characters: the other refugees who meet for tea and cakes in the Willow Tea Rooms; Ruth’s Uncle Mishak who copes with his wife’s death by planting radishes; Quin’s formidable Aunt Frances who will do anything to prevent Bowmont being given to the National Trust; and Ruth’s fellow students at the university, especially Verena Plackett, the closest thing to a villain in this novel. There are many more – too many to mention here – but all of them have something to add to the story.

I did enjoy The Morning Gift but it’s probably my least favourite of the three Ibbotson novels I’ve read so far. There was nothing in particular that I disliked about this book (apart from the slow start); it’s just that I preferred The Secret Countess and Madensky Square. I’m looking forward to continuing to work through the rest of Ibbotson’s novels!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

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17 thoughts on “The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

  1. Lark says:

    Love the premise of this…your review of their situation made me smile. I have mostly read Ibbotson’s middle grade novels. Obviously, I’ve been missing out on some good books. I’ll have to correct that this summer. Of the three you mentioned, which is your favorite?

    • Helen says:

      My favourite was the first one I read, Madensky Square. I thought it had a more mature feel than the others and I loved the setting. I enjoyed all three, though!

  2. Miss Darcy's Library says:

    I love Ibbotson’s novels!! I like the same things as you about this one – my only quarrel is with the ending, which I find too abrupt. It’s a pity because the rest of the story is just lovely. May I suggest my two personal favourites? A Company of Swans, and Magic Flutes, the first about ballet, the second about opera!

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    Thank you for refreshing my memory of this one, till I have the chance to do some rereading. I love that cover too.

    • Helen says:

      It’s a lovely cover, isn’t it? I’m sure I’ll want to reread some of Ibbotson’s novels too, but I still have plenty of unread ones to try first.

  4. Lisa says:

    It’s also my least favorite, because I find the big misunderstanding between the main characters a little hard to believe. But there’s also lots to enjoy in it

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I thought the misunderstanding felt a bit too convenient as a way of setting up the conflict for the final section of the book. I found it hard to believe too. I’m glad you could still find things to enjoy, though!

  5. jessicabookworm says:

    I enjoyed this and I am pleased you did too! I can also recommend A Company of Swans and my personal favourite A Song for Summer. Your mention of Madensky Square reminds me I must read more of her work myself.

  6. Alex says:

    Just the mention of tea and cakes in the Willow Rooms sells this to me. I love the Willow Rooms. But then I love Ibbotson as well. Have you read ‘Journey to the River Sea’? Another of her books well worth seeking out.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read Journey to the River Sea, but I like the sound of it and will try to read it soon. Actually, I like the sound of all of Ibbotson’s books!

  7. Helen C says:

    I hadn’t come across Eva Ibbotson, but I would like to recommend another book with the same title – “The Morning Gift” by Diana Norman. In fact, anything by Diana Norman, one of my all-time favourite writers of historical fiction. I suspect her work is mostly out of print now, with the possible exception of the series of four historical detective novels she wrote under the name of Ariana Franklin, plus a recently-issued title (I think called “The Winter Siege”) which was completed by her daughter Samantha Norman after her death a couple of years ago. But if you ever spot anything of hers, grab it! Trust me!

    DN’s “Morning Gift” is set in the 12th century, so probably rather different to this one!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I have read Winter Siege and the first of the detective novels, Mistress of the Art of Death, both of which I enjoyed, but I haven’t read any of her books published as Diana Norman yet. I’ll certainly give them a try – I see Blood Royal and The Vizard Mask are both available for Kindle so maybe I could start with one of those.

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