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OVERVIEW: Christmas Reading

A bit late, but I thought I’d mention a couple of books I read over the Christmas holidays. I liked A Cornish Stranger by Liz Fenwick a little more than The Cornish House. It’s the story of Jaunty, a reclusive artist, and her grand-daughter Gabrielle, who mysteriously gave up a promising career as an opera singer and has now decided to move back to Cornwall to live with Jaunty. Both know that 92 year old Jaunty’s health is declining and she doesn’t have long to live, but what Gabe doesn’t realise is how little she knows about her grandmother until a stranger comes into their lives.

He’s tall, dark and handsome, by the way.

I thought the beginning was taut, but the coincidences involved in Jaunty’s wartime exploits were too much for a subplot. Characters from the previous Cornish books appear, and it’s good to find Hannah from The Cornish House in a better place emotionally. It could have done with another copy-edit, as there seemed to be a real problem with the word ‘to’ throughout the book.

I also reread The Abbey Girls Win Through by Elsie J. Oxenham, and it struck me quite forcibly that there’s a lot of tragedy in this story. Oxenham is interested in how the Abbey Girls respond to these tragedies, mainly schoolgirls Ros and Maidie, but also Mary-Dorothy who is in her thirties. (Stop now if you don't want to know what they are.)

Oxenham treats Rosamund being disappointed in a schoolfriend and shy Maidlin’s terror over being May Queen as seriously as bereavements, perhaps even more so – Sir Andrew Marchwood is, well, redundant (he would have taken Joy away from the Hall) and dispatched quite ruthlessly. Jen also suffers great losses, but the focus is really Mary-Dorothy finding that she is unable to give her friend support in her hour of need. Fortunately there’s a new friend who has been through something akin to what Jen is suffering. I don’t believe Ann, who goes by Nancy, returns in the series.

I wasn’t convinced that the coping mechanisms for grief were always well underpinned or even healthy. But as Mary-Dorothy is a writer of books for girls, one’s always tempted to see something of the authoress in her, and it’s interesting that she comes to see her tendency to daydream in a different light to the way she does in The Abbey Girls in Town.

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November 2017

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