This is the book that I ordered from Persephone Books. Streatfeild is the author of over 80 books, most of which are long out of print. The exception is her series known in the US as "The Shoe Books" which includes Dancing Shoes, Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, Skating Shoes – any others? I can't remember, but I read them all as a child. These books have been continuously in print since the 1930's. No small accomplishment.
Saplings is written for adults, but, not surprisingly, has four children as protagonists. At first I was anxious about this. I don't usually enjoy books that have children as main characters because writing from a child's point of view is very tricky, and few authors really get it right. Yet I needn't have feared. Streatfeild's skill in writing about children for children enables her to create child characters who are complex and believable to adult readers as well.
The book takes place between 1939 and 1944 or ‘45. The four Wiltshire children are fractured by war, leaving London to live at first with grandparents in the country, then sent to various boarding schools, and eventually to other relatives when their father is killed in an air raid and their London house is destroyed. Their mother, Lena, is a type no longer seen in modern literature. A vacuous beauty, she strives to be a pleasure to her children, a darling companion, a giver of delights. She leaves all the dirty work of parenting to the nannies and governesses. Her failures, as the nannies and governesses are called up, and she is left to actually raise her own children, are shocking, and the children suffer accordingly. Lena sinks into alcoholism and promiscuity, and the children fall apart in all different ways. The adult relatives and friends are fairly ineffective, though the grandfather comes through in the end. This is not a happy story. But it is great reading for fans of mid-20th century British fiction.
You can only get this book through Persephone Books, unless perhaps you find an ancient used copy, or you get it from a university library. Friends who would like to borrow my copy are welcome to it. But ordering from Persephone is easy and fast and less expensive than you might think.
(Book 10, 2007)