Friday, November 9, 2012

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild



Well -- I'm winding my way down through the TBR Challenge.  Finally, I have completed Saplings by Noel Streatfeild, a Persephone Classic, and one that's been on my shelves for a couple of years.  Normally, I love Persephones, and I don't know why I took so long to pick this one up.  I did try it a couple of months ago and it didn't grab me right away.  I finally gave it another shot and I'm so glad I did, because it was really good.

Here's the setup:  on the eve of WWII, the Wiltshires are an upper-middle or upperclass family, and from the outside, they seem perfect.  Alex Wiltshire is working for the family business, engineering something for the war effort; his beautiful wife Lena is gorgeous and devoted to him; and they have four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, ages ranging from about 12 to five years old.  The war hasn't started, but there are rumblings afoot, and the family is taking a seaside holiday with the children's governess and nanny.

At first, all seems idyllic, but Streatfeild quickly cuts to the heart of what makes this family tick:  Alex is a devoted husband and father, but his wife is more interested in her husband than her children.  The author makes insightful and fascinating psychological observations about the family dynamic and the personalities of each of the children, more so than I've ever read in any book about a family before.  Streatfeild has the amazing ability to get into the essence of these people, especially the children, and examine their personalities and foibles.

Of course, with the onset of the war, this "perfect" family begins to fall apart.  The children are separated from their parents, sent off to the country to stay with their grandparents; the eldest go off to boarding school.  Later, a tragedy strikes that upsets the whole balance of the family, and things start to unravel.  The characters aren't necessarily likable, but they're so realistic, I couldn't wait to find out what happened to them.

Apparently, Streatfeild was one of the first authors to really examine the psychological impact of the trauma of the war on children.  Of course I knew that millions of children were evacuated and separated from their families because of the war, and I'd heard that psychologically, it was probably more damaging for the children to be separated from their families than for them to be together.  I can't imagine having to make a choice like that!

Another of my favorite Persephone books, Doreen, also deals with the story of an evacuated child, but in that situation, both the child's mother and the country family who host her love her and want to keep her.  It's interesting to compare the two.  I reviewed that book as well, and if you're interested, you can read my thoughts here.

This is my 42nd Persephone -- I haven't read that many lately and I've been hoping to read more, especially since they recently published their 100th book!  So congratulations to Persephone, I look forward to completing the other 58 on my list.

Has anyone else read Saplings?  Any other books by Noel Streatfeild?  Or any other Persephones that you love?

11 comments:

  1. I've read loads of stuff by Noel Streatfeild, but nothing as bleak as (I've heard) Saplings is. Her kids' books do have that same lovely exploration of family dynamics, though, and she never romanticizes the kids in her books. They're all selfish little jerks sometimes, even if they're basically very good kids. I love that about her. Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes are my two favorites.

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    1. Somehow I have never read anything else by Streatfeild, not a single one of the Shoes books! I keep meaning to read Ballet Shoes but somehow I never get to it.

      I know she wrote a lot of adult fiction as well, but they've all fallen out of print. Sad.

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  2. It's hard when the book doesn't click right away. I love the TBR challenge for making me get through some of those tough books.

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    1. I've made it through nearly all of my challenges this year -- I signed up for the Historical Challenge really late, so I probably won't make that one. I'm already thinking about the TBR Challenge for next year!

      Luckily, most of my TBR Challenge books have turned out to be winners, only a couple of duds in the bunch.

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  3. This sounds really good! I love novels about family dynamics. Congratulations on the TBR Pile Challenge! I have only read and reviewed 2 of 12 on my list, so it's not looking too good for me. ;)

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    1. It was a bit tough at first because I really didn't care for the mother; however, it's so well-written, I was able to get absorbed by the interplay between the characters. World War II is really fascinating, but what I've always loved is reading about the domestic side, the war at home.

      Sorry to hear about your TBR list, but there's still time, you could still make progress at least!

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  4. As I was reading your review, I was thinking of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-Maker, also republished by Persephone (and only the second I've bought) - and one of the most psychologically insightful books about how family trauma affects children (though not the trauma of war).

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    1. I loved The Home-Maker! It was one of the first Persephones I read. I agree, I loved the insight in that book, though it's very different from Saplings. I'm so glad I discovered Persephones, I've read quite a few of them now and I nearly always love them, or get something out of them. I wish I lived closer so I could go to the shop someday.

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  5. Read it and loved it, but it is oh so sad! Poor little Tuesday.

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    1. I felt really bad for all of the children, except Kim. He was so self-absorbed, I couldn't feel sorry for him. That was one seriously messed-up family.

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  6. I've heard that this book in connection to WWII, but had no idea what it was really about. Thanks for the review.

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