One of the three lovely Persephone books I have lined up for my 20 Books of Summer challenge, and this has been on my radar for ages, having been championed by the lovely Simon at Stuck In A Book, who reviewed it back in 2012, finally seeing it picked up and republished by Persephone Books to the delight of many. It was very exciting to see part of his review in the Afterword to this one, as well as an excerpt from Ali’s review! My best friend Emma, one of four sisters herself, bought me this one for Christmas, and I’m faintly surprised that I managed to hold back on reading it for this long!

Diana Tutton – “Guard Your Daughters”

(29 December 2017 – from Emma)

A wonderful, delightful book, reminiscent of “I Capture the Castle” and other Dodie Smith books, particularly in its voice, with a touch of “The Brontes Went to Woolworths” and even of Barbara Comyns (more of that later), and all the odd, whimsical families we all adore in literature.

It’s a joy, but not all froth: there’s a real poignancy underneath the very English, weird family fun. I love our narrator Morgan and her collection of sisters, and although they all get a bit overwrought sometimes (echoes of the Mitford sisters making each other wail over the “death” of a match), once you know the ending, you can see that the undercurrents were always there. There’s a hint of something a bit awry right from the start, when married sister Pandora, who has escaped the  eccentricity for a suburban life in a small house, explains to Morgan that she’s been checked by a doctor and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t all marry and have (lots of) children. Morgan says,

“Well, that is good, isn’t it? I always meant to marry, but I used to think I’d have to be sterilized or something. (Doesn’t it sound horrible? Like a milk bottle.)” (p. 18)

That really encapsulates the tone of the book, too. That and Morgan’s fear of stepping on a dead face in a darkened cinema bring to mind Barbara Comyns and the darkness beneath the matter-of-fact and almost flippant narration. There’s a delicious reference to “Cold Comfort Farm” when Thisbe and Morgan are ragging someone richer in money but poorer in imagination than them, and I love it when the two of them simultaneously do this and worry that they might actually be “really quite ordinary” (p. 171).

We have plenty of adventures and a few Young Men to provide interest, although the main interest is in the interaction of the sisters and their odd household. It’s a perfect read.

This is a delightful book that it’s impossible to put down: I could have done with it being twice the length or having sequel after sequel, and it’s definitely one I will read again – what a marvel.

I should address the Afterword, which I have to say is a bit odd – it’s a collection of reviews from through the ages, from publication up to bloggers we know and love, but about half of them are really quite negative, and while no one wants to sugar-coat, it just seems odd to include those. I’d love to know why Persephone did that. But I agree with the positive reviews of this gem of a book.

This was Book 15 in my 20 Books of Summer project.