Monday, November 2, 2009

Blight the Branch

Noel Streatfeild is primarily known for her children's books, but she started out in the adult fiction world. Persephone Press started reprinting forgotten books, and picked on of hers. I'm a big fan of the Shoes books (Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, etc.) about independent children who excel at something, so I put in a library order for Saplings.

All the strength of characterization is there -- the book follows four children from their happy beginnings in England before the start of WWII, complete with nurse, governess, boarding schools, and other accouterments of prosperous middle class life, and then follows the mostly unfortunate turns that the war forces upon them and their parents. Streatfeild gives time to each of the children as well as the adults who care for them, rarely judging but also not hiding the unpleasant parts of both the children and the adults. The mom is unstable and narcissistic, who can't cope alone after the father dies. The children mostly manage to lose themselves between their mother's unsteady care and the misunderstandings of the boarding school authorities. Without a stable home, they find themselves unable to build themselves into successful adults.

It's well done, but very sad. There are a few corners of happy endings, but not for the children we met so happily on the beach at the start (shades of Snicket here!). In his afterward, Dr Jeremy Holmes claims that "by the end of the book misery is forgotten" and I really have no idea what he is talking about. At least three of the four children are utterly miserable, with little hope in the near future, and the fourth is heading off to a superficial success that will ensure he never deepens his personality. B.


kmitcham said...

Maybe misery was forgotten since they no longer had anything to contrast it with?

olduvai said...

Oh I loved Noel Streatfeild's children's books, especially Ballet Shoes, which I read over and over again when I was a kid (and then when I was an adult!). I never knew she wrote adult fiction though! Must get my hands on that!