“Stanley said to Judith how blessed they were in their daughters. Only Judith wondered whether this might be the last holiday they would have together as a family. The children had no thought of last things, confident that everything lay ahead of them.”
I had not read Mary Hocking before but saw reviews that were so compelling, that I picked up this first book in her trilogy, “Good Daughters”, with expectations of a treat before me.
I have to say that at first, I wasn’t too impressed. This coming-of-age-in-prewar England novel had its moments; chapters that describe vacations, school, growing up, family, and boy-girl relationships. It took me a few chapters to get into the lives of the characters. But as I read on, I discovered that this is no simple story of family life in England. In between the school-girl stories that include both triumphs and failures, there is also tragedy. There is a friend who travels to Germany and doesn’t come back. There are unforeseen and unprepared-for consequences from rash choices, and there are also bits of wonderful prose; bright sparkling paragraphs of deep, challenging explorations of the meaning of life and this sometimes crazy, upside-down world we live in.
As I read I continued to vacillate between really, really liking the stories of family life and alternately wishing the author had not included a few of the scenes. And there is quite a variety of characterization here; the elderly, crochety grandmother, the unassailable school headmistress, the pretentious Mrs. Immingham, the pleasant, refreshing country vacations and the Jubilee parade. All are depicted and written about as if the reader himself is present.
Now that I have finished reading, I am still somewhat hesitant and uncertain of how to view this surprising book, but I do know that I have to keep reading! I find myself looking forward to picking up the second book in the trilogy (“Indifferent Heroes”). Certainly the characters have stayed with me, and the story line also.
The Fairleys are a ‘fairly’ (excuse the pun!) typical family with three girls, a stern father and supportive mother, and a ‘middling’ comfortable life. Not rich or pretentious, this is life as it was for much of England before the war begins, although events are escalating and the war looms on the horizon, coloring the background.
“They grew up aware of an older, more stable way of life, though they were not to be its inheritors.”
Louise, the eldest, seems ready to throw off restraint in her response to the restrictions placed upon her by her well-meaning minister-father. I suppose there are many that did not appreciate the character of Stanley Fairley, but having children of my own, I could understand his concerns. Without revealing too much, Stanley’s well-meaning attempts to place stringent boundaries upon his children, unfortunately, result in the very consequence that he fears. Judith brings a balance to the family as she tries to pave a smooth path between father and daughters.
There are real-life situations, and some of the vignettes will not be appreciated as the author does not hesitate to portray all of the details that life involves, including the unattractive side of human nature. However the final chapter simply blew me away! The author takes Alice through her agonizing questions to examine the role of her own life and that of those around her. Alice is not afraid to ask questions and concludes that although some of life’s dilemmas will never be satisfactorily answered, an enduring faith, even in the midst of human suffering, lays the groundwork for it all.
“Her puritan upbringing had laid much emphasis on the need for endurance in the face of injustice, fortitude in suffering and, by their very nature, the virtues commended to her implied a certain grimness in the grain of life. What she had not been prepared for, because she did not merit it, was the laying of a jeweled robe across her shoulders. There was something shocking about grace, an inexplicable quirk in God’s behavior; the struggle to come to terms with it would be her life. But she did not see that now, was only dimly aware of a beginning.”