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Girl reader

OVERVIEW: Three books

I couldn’t quite work myself up to a full review of these books, but I wanted to mention them. ‘Six in a Family’ by Eleanor Graham is described as being ‘Of absorbing interest to young readers because it is so alive and “true”’ by the publishers, and I think that wouldn’t be an idle boast. The sextet are the Rose children, ranging from fourteen and a half to six. They have enjoyably plain names: Dick, Jane, Bill, John, Mary and Lucy. There is talk of Mr Rose having recently lost money, but the family are sufficiently well-off to have a cook and nanny/helping hand/general factotum in Edith. The story is no classic like ‘Little Women’ which the girls read, being somewhat episodic but with no real development – Mary is still high-strung and contrary by the end. But it is true to life, the children all get fractious and are keen not to be seen as ‘little children’ with the older three, being especially sensitive on that point.

Lily Tobias’s ‘Evelyn Fleet’ was written in the early 1930s and deserves mention in these days of constant centenaries of battles from the first world war. It is written from a pacifist perspective and features powerful passages depicting the tribunal that conscientious objectors faced for rejecting conscription, and the punishment meted out to those who were not exempted, because they were the wrong class, Jewish or unwilling to aid the state in any way in a war they did not believe in. The book’s structure is to begin in the ‘present’ of the 1930s, when the complicated anti-heroine meets a man with a connection to her dead husband, then to flash back to when Evelyn agreed to marry Vincent Fleet just before war broke out, before returning again to the 1930s, when Evelyn’s teenage stepsister, Dorry, for whom she is unwillingly responsible, may be the cause of more unhappiness to a woman who has suffered much. But much of Evelyn’s suffering was self-inflicted, because, in the past, she too was an unthinking teenager, still a self-centred child in a woman’s body when the great war broke out. It was an interesting perspective on those times. I picked up the book, republished by Honno Classics, a kind of Welsh Virago, because of the pacifist theme. The writer was Jewish and Welsh, but the novel’s Jewish characters are very secondary, although offering depth to the picture of the times – the characters know war is coming, but could not imagine its specific horrors - and Cardiff was unrecognisable to me as Taviston, Evelyn’s home town.

Mabel Esther Allen’s ‘The Flash Children’ is for children of eight and twelve, and though shorter, I thought was richer than ‘Six in a Family.’ It features Allen’s typical strong sense of place – a ‘flash’ is a Cheshire word for a lake. The Briggs, half-Welsh Dilys, Arthur and Megan, move from their beloved Shropshire to Flash Cottage, i.e. a cottage next to a lake, because of their father’s job. At first, they think it’s going to be dreadful, but they come to make friends and find something worthwhile to do over the summer, thus becoming The Flash Children of the title. The eldest girl, Dilys, is perceptive, and her determination to make friends with partially sighted Brian and her sympathy for the rather wild neighbours Dan and Edith make a difference to them all.

This entry was originally posted at http://feather-ghyll.dreamwidth.org/127471.html. Please comment wherever you prefer to.

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Girl reader

October 2017

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