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?