Saturday’s Child

  • saturdayschild
Susan Brown wants it all. Tired of the drudgery of clerking in a busy office, tired of the same round of lunch with the office girls at noon, catching the trolley in the mornings in rain and slush, tired of the endless bills to log in and check, Susan is hoping for a better, easier life. The problem is that she doesn’t quite know all of what that life entails… but she is about to find out.

Enter Peter Coleman. Peter is a social darling; wealthy, assured, handsome and witty, he is immediately attracted to Susan and vice versa. Suddenly Susan is introduced to life on the ‘other side’ and she becomes caught up in the gaiety of social life among the comfortably wealthy. Although not at first confident in her new surroundings, and finding she has much to learn, she is enamored of the wealth and prestigious homes she is introduced to. However, and especially after she accepts a position as companion to one of Peter’s acquaintances, Susan begins to find that the life she thinks of as so easy and attractive is anything but.

“She saw the poisoned undercurrent of this glittering and exquisite existence, the selfishness, the cruelties, the narrowness. She saw its fundamental insincerity. In a world where wrongs were to be righted, and ignorance enlightened, and childhood sheltered and trained, she began to think it strange that strong, and young, and wealthy men and women should be content to waste enormous sums of money upon food to which they scarcely ever brought a normal appetite, upon bridge-prizes for guests whose interest in them scarcely survived the moment of unwrapping the dainty beribboned boxes in which they came, upon costly toys for children whose nurseries were already crowded with toys. She wondered that they should think it worthwhile to spend hours and days in harassing dressmakers and milliners, to make a brief appearance in the gowns they were so quickly ready to discard, that they should gratify every passing whim…”

But if the easy, carefree life Susan has so craved has its dark side, then where is poor Susan to find fulfillment and happiness? The reader may not be too surprised that after a her share of failed romances, Susan will discover that happiness entails (surprise!) not only companionship, but also hard work. Susan find fulfillment not within a life of idle luxury, but alongside a husband that shares her own values and is her true companion and friend. It is eye-opening to Susan to realize that joy can be found in the most simple of everyday pleasures, whether indulging in a dinner of fried oysters or a day spent picnicking in the countryside.

“Why, I was thinking that I’d rather,” Susan began hesitatingly, “rather have my work cut out for me in this life! That is, I’d rather begin at the bottom of the ladder, and work up to the top, than be at the top, through no merit of my own, and live in terror of falling to the bottom! I believe, from what I’ve seen of other people, that we’ll succeed, and I think we’ll have lots of fun doing it!”

A thought-provoking, satisfying read.

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Marling Hall

marlinghallLettice Watson has lost her husband at Dunkirk. Left with two small children to raise, she is living at home (Marling Hall), but in an apartment over the stables. Recognizing her mother’s tendency to ‘take over’ Lettice’s life, she very wisely distances herself as much as possible.

“She recognized, without rancour, that it always had been and always would be impossible to talk to her own friends when her masterful mother was present. For this reason, as we know, she had preferred to live in the flat over the stables where at least she had solitude when she needed it and could ask a friend to tea.”

Lucy, Lettice’s sister, on the other hand is assertive, bossy, and totally the opposite of her sister.   When Lucy invites a friend (Captain Barclay), home to tea, he immediately detects the contrast in personalities and is attracted to Leticia. But is it kind to Lucy, Lettice thinks, to steal her sister’s friend?

‘Marling Hall’ was published in 1942, written in 1941. Thirkell gives the reader a window into what everyday life was like in the beginning years of the war for England. Food and clothing rationing has not yet made a full impact (although the reader can tell that the effects of rationing will be felt soon).

There are several characters with not only the challenges of the war to overcome (and the changes brought to their personal lives), but their own internal foibles and problems. The charming David Leslie whom everyone seems to love (although he can’t fool his old nurse, Miss Bunting), is also enamored of Leticia. Whom will she choose? The Harveys, a brother and sister, rent from Mrs. Smith and Miss Harvey sets her cap at Oliver Marling.

“One of the things he admired in Miss Harvey was her firm, nay almost overbearing attitude towards her brother. He liked her spirit and did not stop to think that her power of bullying might be equally applied to a husband.”

The annoying Mrs. Smith, who is also a widow, rents her home out and then continually returns to ‘borrow’ the items she misses and her tenants seem unable to resist her.

“Oh, Mrs. Smith,’ said Mr. Harvey. ‘Is she a friend of yours? I wish you would ask her not to come and take things out of the house now we have taken it. She has got two saucepans and a reading lamp and she has just taken the dining-room tongs.’ “

Not my favorite Thirkell but entertaining nonetheless!

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The House of the Deer

The House of the Deer

“The House of the Deer” is the sequel to “Gerald and Elizabeth”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Gerald’s sister Bess, the famous actress, is now married to the shipyard owner, Walter McCallum. Hired by his new brother-in-law to help with security, Gerald begins to regain his confidence and we follow his adventures in this story set in Scotland. Gerald joins a house party in the north, hosted by the MacAslan family, to stalk deer. Lots in here about hunting and conservation that I hadn’t known!

“A certain number of deer must be killed every year to prevent the herd from increasing.’

‘But why don’t they want their herd to increase?’ asked Gerald in bewilderment.

‘Because there’s only a limited supply of food for them… In Scotland the forests have no roads or tracks; there are mountain and moors and bogs. As a matter of fact MacAslan said he was going to try feeding the stags this year as an experiment…”

One member of the party is particularly offensive and jeers at Gerald’s story of shooting lions in Africa but he eventually gets his comeuppance (DE Stevenson always satisfactorily ties up all the loose ends in her stories!)

“…Oliver leaned forward and burst out: ‘Mac, listen to me! There’s something wrong about that fellow!’

‘Something wrong? Do you mean he’s not well?’

“No, I don’t mean that at all. I mean there’s something fishy about him. He isn’t straight.”

This book was not sophisticated or especially clever, but it was enjoyable nonetheless! I was anxious to follow Gerald’s story and find out if his name is ever cleared from the first book. I really appreciated Gerald’s character in this story as the author contrasts him with the indulged and selfish Oliver Stoddart, a friend of the MacAslan family.

The author gives us a window into Oliver’s private thoughts: “Phil was a sensible girl and would realise her good fortune in having attracted such an eligible suitor as Oliver Stoddart.”

Gerald has no pretensions. How many of us would bluff our way through a talent or skill that we were lacking in? but not Gerald Burleigh Brown.

“I’ve never shot deer,’ said Gerald. ‘I know nothing about stalking but Sir Walter said you would be able to teach me. You’ll find me very ignorant, I’m afraid’….

“I’ve never done any stalking,’ Gerald added. ‘I expect you’ve realized that I know nothing about it.’

Mac had. He said rather anxiously, ‘Sir Walter said you could shoot?’

‘I’ve shot lions,’ admitted Gerald. ‘But that’s different, of course.’

Besides the intrigue of the story, there is the scenery of Scotland and, as always in Stevenson’s books, a satisfying romance.

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Every Falling Star

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Sungju Lee’s amazing survival story of his childhood in North Korea, how he escaped bitter, harsh circumstances, and found new life in South Korea.

Sungju’s family had it all; a nice home, prestige, a bright future. His father was a rising star in the military and people bowed to him as they passed him on the street. Until he did something wrong (that the author could not safely write about), fell out of favor, and the entire family is suddenly banished to the north and to rural poverty.

Sungju ends up on the street, forming a gang with his school friends, robbing others at the food market and train stations just to survive.

“Every Day, Young-bum and I stole twisted bread sticks, candies, dububab (rice wrapped with tofu), and won (currency). With the won, we bought his grandmother’s medicine and then white rice and soybean paste, which he would cook into meals for his grandmother. With all the food she was now eating and the proper doses of medicine she was getting, her health slowly improved. By the start of harvest season, she started spending her days sitting up, and soon she was standing. By the middle of the fall, she’d even awake before Young-bum and me and prepare us a meal of corn rice and vegetable porridge. As we’d eat, she’d tell us stories about what Joseon was like before Kim Il-sung. ‘It was a terrible time when the Japanese made slaves of us all. If you think now is tough…’ she would always say…”

This is not a pretty story but it does bring home to the reader the incredible tenacity of the human will to live and the needs we all have. Everyone needs companionship and belonging and a family, and these young boys find a way to fill the gaps in their lives and support one another in their quest to simply survive.

Reading this book brings home the bleak reality of life for so many; the struggle to survive, to find enough to eat from day to day, and the emotional upheaval coping with the disappearances of family members. The author does not try to gloss over what life really was like for him but he does hold out hope. “I had learned a valuable lesson as a street boy: ‘You can’t wait for hope to find you. You have to go out and grab it.”

This book is not only educational illustrating the experiences of life in a foreign land, it is also crucial for our times. Unfortunately, we live in a time when America’s freedoms are often taken lightly. How easy it is to forget what we have!

“I realized that to achieve my dream, I had to study and find some way to enjoy studying. I knew, after everything I’d been through and how far I had come, I couldn’t drop out. I learned how to deal with the stress, and soon I came to love school. The more I study, the more I see what I don’t know and want to learn.”

All I can say is, the next time you are tempted to complain about the long lines at the supermarket, read this book.

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Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

Rosalind wants what most of us seem to take for granted: a normal, happy home life. But with an alcoholic, abusive father, her mother has a painful choice before her. She ultimately makes the difficult decision to escape her marriage and protect herself and her children.

“I wanted to hear visions of happy Christmas mornings and birthday parties and family vacations. I wanted to hear Daddy tell me that we’d all sit down together to eat supper at night, with him and Wally both there with us, and we’d all get along and talk and laugh, and afterward Mom would wash the dishes while Daddy helped me with homework and Valerie played with a puppy that Daddy had brought home for us…”

Rosalind’s dream seems impossible; but when her father shows up in the same town where they now live, confessing how much he misses the family and making promises of reform, her dream suddenly seems to be taking on reality. Or is it?

A difficult topic to write about, Ann Tatlock brings the era of the sixties to life in this coming-of-age novel. The Vietnam War, drugs, racial tension and air-raid drills are all part of Rosalind’s world and she needs a friend. Mara, her bi-racial school chum, seems to be older than her years as she cautions Ros to ‘be careful’ of her daddy’s promises. And to make life even more complicated, the previous owner of their new home, Tillie, shows up more than once on the front porch, escaping her assisted living facility and demanding to be allowed to ‘die in her own home’.

There are solutions though, and the author brings home to the reader that life is a series of choice, cause and effect, change, and adjustments. Tillie is able to contribute to the family and take care of Ros and her little sister Valerie while their mother goes to work. And Tillie makes other contributions as well; contributions that Ros will never forget:

“… that was the thing about Tillie; that was the legacy she left me. Without her, I might never have known what I know now: that heaven is indeed merciful, and all the hours and days and dreams we deem as lost are simply waiting for us in a place we’ll someday recognize as home.”

Although it could be said that the ending ties up all too neatly, I was pulling for Ros all the way. The author has never disappointed me! I have enjoyed each one of her books and plan to read them all.

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Gerald and Elizabeth

Gerald and Elizabeth

When Gerald Burleigh Brown loses his job due to a frame-up, he has no one to turn to. He returns to London in despair, too devastated even to speak to anyone. Gerald avoids even the shortest of conversations with a stranger. His reputation has been deeply tarnished (undeservedly), and there isn’t a thing he can do about it.

“It was easy to make friends on shipboard – in fact it was difficult not to – but Mr. Brown eluded them, and, apart from a chance meeting in the corridor when he hurried past with a muttered ‘Good morning’ in answer to their smiles, no contact had been made. He was never visible except at meals when he sat at a small table in the corner of the dining-room, eating and reading a book. He was never to be seen on deck. He took no part in games nor swam in the swimming-pool…”

Back in London Gerald decides to visit his sister who has made a success of her actress job and is a well-known star in a play. Once he is back with family (even one sister constitutes ‘family’!), and a loving atmosphere, he begins to regain his equilibrium.

“Gerald had been living at the flat for three weeks by this time and, in spite of the fact that he couldn’t find a job, he felt a great deal better. It was Bess, of course. Bess was giving him back his self-respect. Perhaps his room had helped too. You couldn’t occupy such a comfortable room and continue to feel dirty…”

When Sir Walter MacCallum, a shipyard owner, offers Gerald a job, he jumps at the chance. But will he ever clear up the mystery of who stole the diamonds from the mine where he lost his job?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Gerald and Elizabeth” and was rooting for Gerald all the way! Gerald is polite and unassuming, and determined to conduct himself responsibly (no taking hand-outs for Gerald Burleigh Brown!) The character analysis in this novel, (one of Stevenson’s strengths), is full of insight. The hidden undercurrents revealed in conversation and situations that arise illustrate a great deal about each character’s personality and motives. The author, through her characters, puts her finger on the difficulties and struggles within the human heart.

It is easy to sympathize with Gerald’s plight as, although innocent, his circumstances work to disillusion and discourage him. But all is not lost and Gerald will soon find his way.

Although (as some reviewers mentioned), the plot is often predictable, I found plenty to entertain and amuse me. Another light pleasant read from DE Stevenson to add to my shelf!

 

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The Musgraves

The Musgraves

Esther Musgrave worries about her family of three daughters. And with good reason.

“How strange it was to have three daughters, all completely different! They had all been brought up in the same way with the same background, and in outward appearance they were not unlike, but inwardly there was no resemblance at all: Delia so prickly and difficult; Meg so sweet-natured and sensible; Rose so gay and happy and young!”

Could there ever be three sisters in one family more different than the Musgraves?

Delia is touchy and easily provoked (there’s one in every family!) The oldest is often more responsible and ambitious, but not in Delia’s case. Having felt pushed aside from a young age to make room for her younger siblings, Delia yearns for fulfillment and her frustrations are easily transferred to those around her. Alienating her fellow actors and actresses in a small village play is just one of Delia’s outlets. When a new neighbor moves in next door, Delia finds a way to ingratiate herself with Eulalie Winters. Delia very quickly (and not very prudently) enmeshes herself in her new friendship and is greatly influenced by her older, more sophisticated friend… but is Eulalie everything she seems?

Margaret, the middle child, is happily married to Bernard and has everything she wants… well, almost everything. She loves being a homemaker and creating a place of safety for her husband, giving him comfort foods when he returns from his demanding job at the law firm. Bernard is saddled with running his mother-in-laws estate and his lawyer background is perfect for the job, but it isn’t always an easy task (especially when Delia so outspokenly objects to his methods).

Rose is young, naïve and pretty. Just finished with school, she is also seeking her place in life and is ripe for plunging into in an unwise relationship. Will she be rescued in time?

I picked up The Musgraves looking for a quiet, gentle comfort read and as usual DE Stevenson’s writing hit the spot. Her characters are on-target and human, and I had to laugh when Mrs. Bloggs decides to take her dog for a long walk on an uncomfortably hot day all in the pursuit of rescuing a damsel in distress! (I loved that chapter!)

“Soon after the arrival of Puggy (their dog), the Bloggses bought a ‘telly’; (it was essential to have one, because all their neighbours had ‘tellies’) but none of them liked it much. The fact was they were all great talkers and they found it more interesting to exchange news of their daily doings and the gossip of Shepherdsford than to look at and listen to the daily doings of the outside world, and they soon discovered that it was more comfortable to sit and talk quietly than to shout and bellow at each other with the ‘telly’ turned on full blast. Of course they turned it on full blast when a neighbour dropped in to see them because that was the right thing to do, but neighbours often brought news – interesting news about other neighbours – which the Bloggses wanted to hear.”

Perhaps others don’t get as much pleasure out of this author as I do. Her language and cultural references are a little outdated at times with uncomplicated plots, but for me, that simply adds to her charm. DE Stevenson, long a favorite of mine, never disappoints.

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