Moving on...I’ve had ‘Saplings’ on the shelf for a few months (the very attractive Persephone Classics edition – I think I like these even more than the original grey jackets), and post flu was looking for some easy reading. What I really wanted was something like ‘The Secret Garden’ or ‘A Little Princess’ (anyone who knows ‘Saplings’ can draw their own conclusions at this point) so I hoped Streatfeild’s style would fit the bill, which it did, I will also admit that before the end it brought tears to my eyes (a mix of sentiment and flu).
Briefly the book tells the story of the Wiltshire family, mainly the 4 children, and the effect the war including the loss of a beloved father has on them. It’s an admittedly flawed but generally brilliant book, and one I can’t help but think more parents should read. Streatfeild gets to the heart of how profoundly little things can undermine children, how important a sense of security is and how easy it is to disappear between the cracks in family and school life.
From the very beginning there are storm clouds on the horizon – both in terms of impending war and within the family dynamic. Lena who is all wife and mistress, mother very much as a second thought is clearly the weak link in the family, through no fault of her own she will never be able to provide the stability her children need from her – when she loses her husband she falls apart, but she’s not really a bad mother, just not naturally suited to the role, and ill prepared for it by a sheltered life of privilege. The Wiltshire children also suffer from their sheltered life, they are particularly ill prepared for their first experiences of life outside the charmed circle of their own home.
In the end only Kim the 3rd child and youngest boy seems likely to thrive, he alone has the resilience to keep on bouncing back and to understand how to get what he wants and needs. Tuesday the baby of the family develops a series of nervous ticks and tricks as the domestic landscape around her continuously changes without explanation.
The older children Laurel and Tony should on the face of it be more equipped to cope, but they both fail utterly. Streatfeild spends more time on Laurel the eldest and her problems are easier for me to understand. Lacking any particular talent or beauty in a family that has both she is consistently brushed aside with little to fall back on, she inherits a need to love and be loved from her mother, although her instincts are more familial she still needs to come first with someone, and although there are plenty of people who care there is no one who cares enough to give her the help or love she needs.