Two books about growing up today, one quite sweet and anodyne and the other a lot more tangy and dangerous. Both are by authors who I really like and whose work I have read before, so I knew where I was with them to an extent, but both were a little different to the books I’d already read by them. One was written this century and one last century. So, let’s talk about them …
Noel Streatfeild – “A Vicarage Childhood”
This was a rather lovely memoir by the popular children’s author of her own early life as a rather uncompromising child, the middle of three daughters and seen as the untalented and “difficult” one, who starts the book getting thrown out of the school where her sisters have and are prospering. There are cousins, too, including one who is practically raised by her family as his parents are out in India. There’s a lot of period detail, carefully commented on from her adult perspective, and it’s only gradually that it dawns that these are the pre-1914 years and a shadow is looming which intrudes right at the end of the book with somewhat devastating effect. It’s a portrait of a family that has obviously benefited from hindsight and an adult’s viewpoint, very understanding of the family dynamics and looking forward in quick flashes to the life that was to come for all of them. Very enjoyable.
Helen Cross – “My Summer of Love”
Another uncompromising heroine here in this novel centring around Mona, member of a rather chaotic and shifting pub household who has recently lost her mother and is met as she is bridesmaid for her sister Lindy. It’s 1984 and there’s a murderer on the loose in Yorkshire, so everyone’s on guard and twitchy, but no one seems to notice her growing relationship with posh Tamsin up the road. Mona is constantly striving for what she can’t have – whether that’s a secure family unit, money, glamour or love, and at 15 she just goes for it, running off, trying to sabotage her Dad’s new relationship and alternately battling with and baiting her overweight and abandoned “step-brother”. While anyone could be the murderer – and I don’t think we find out who is – Mona runs around free, plays fast and loose with reality, is appalled by and horribly tempted by Tamsin and commits acts of violence herself.
The book is very edgy, starting off blood-soaked in the fumes of the meat processing factory that looms over the streets where Mona lives. There is some quite strong violence which is very well done but I found a little too much (being famously feeble where such things come up). But it’s a compelling story and also soaked in hope and the atmosphere of the 1980s.
Two books came in after a trip to London – oops! I popped down to meet up with Emma, Beth and Grace and ostensibly to have lunch and maybe buy a sponge bag (the glamour!). I instructed the Volante ladies not to allow me anywhere near the Charing Cross Road, and then we wandered into Fopp (which we don’t have in Birmingham) and found these two lovelies. How could I resist a biography of Edith Sitwell when I collect books on the family, or a book on the alphabet when I have a weakness for such things? So I didn’t. Oh well!
Anything nice in your shopping baskets recently? Have you read either of the reviewed or purchased books?