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‘Revenge’ by Yoko Ogawa ****

The eleven ‘dark’ stories in Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge were originally published in Japan in 1998, and have been translated into English by Stephen Snyder.  Ogawa, who has won every major Japanese Literary Award, has been compared to the likes of Haruki Murakami, and this collection has been heralded ‘beautiful, twisted and brilliant’.

All of the tales in Revenge have been linked together, with settings and characters overlapping from one story to the next.  Strings of plot meander their way through the whole.  Similar themes are repeated too, which adds to the feeling of one coherent whole – ageing, death and dying, grief, despair, and adultery, for example.

Some of the stories are very sad – in ‘Afternoon at the Bakery’, a woman purchases a strawberry shortcake for her son’s birthday.  When asked how old he will be, she says, rather matter-of-factly, ‘Six.  He’ll always be six.  He’s dead’.  Others are merely creepy, and are filled with foreboding from the very start: a woman pulls up hand-shaped carrots from her vegetable patch, which have grown as a result of a sinister occurrence, and a woman’s revenge upon her lover when he refuses to leave his wife, for example.  Rather unusually, all of the stories are told using the first person perspective.  Ogawa focuses upon both male and female protagonists, and each narrative voice is as strong as another.

Ogawa’s work has been crafted and translated with such care.  Her descriptions are sometimes beautiful – for example, ‘The sky was a cloudless dome of sunlight’.  She fills her tales with quite surprising details – the narrator of one story is invited along when a quiet classmate meets her father for the first time, and the pair do not speak again, an elderly landlady has surprising strength, and an abandoned post office is filled to the brim with kiwi fruits.  The stories in Revenge are odd, quirky and unusual, and are sure to linger in the mind for days afterwards.

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‘As Red As Blood’ by Salla Simukka ****

Salla Simukka’s As Red As Blood was first published in Finland last year, and has been translated into English by Owen F. Witesman.  The novel is, says its blurb, the first book in a ‘stunning thriller sequence from [an] acclaimed Finnish crime writer’.

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The protagonist of the piece is Lumikki Andersson, a young high school student living in Tampere, who has a rule ‘not to mind other people’s business’ – a rule which is about to be challenged by circumstance.  She is ‘drawn deep into the heart of Finland’s criminal underworld’ when she finds a stash of bloodstained money in her elite art school’s photography room.  She soon becomes a target, and has to ‘out-smart a ruthless killer’ in consequence.

As Red As Blood begins at the end of February, a time at which ‘Fifteen minutes earlier everything had still been possible…  Now each moment saw more red intermingling with the white, spreading, gaining ground, creeping forward through the crystals, staining them as it went’.  A Russian woman named Natalia Smirnova is introduced in this, the book’s first chapter, as she is making her escape from the scene to a dacha in the Russian countryside.  She is shot dead before she can flee, however, and it is her blood which stains the banknotes. The money is then found mysteriously in the garden of Elisa, a girl in Lumikki’s school year.

Lumikki is drawn into the mystery when she discovers the money in the refuge of the dark room.  When she returns to the room, having made a decision with what to do regarding her discovery, she finds that the money is gone.  Elisa and two of her friends, including Tuukka, the son of the school’s principal, have smuggled it out of the school and are intending to keep it.  It is when Lumiiki tails them and is caught in the act that she becomes involved in their plan, much to her dismay.

The third person narrative perspective and sentence structures used throughout works well.  Simukka is great at creating tension and describing scenes, using as few words as possible.  The novel draws you in almost immediately, and as a character study within such circumstances, it is fascinating.  As Red As Blood is certainly a great addition to the Scandinavian crime fiction which has recently been translated into English, and I imagine that there will be many who will eagerly await the second volume in the series.

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‘The Cartographer of No Man’s Land’ by P.S. Duffy ***

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is P.S. Duffy’s debut novel.  Its blurb heralds it ‘a powerful literary novel centered on the assault of Vimy Ridge in 1917’, and ‘epic in scope but intimately rendered’.  It has been highly praised – particularly in the United States, where it was first published last year.

The novel focuses upon protagonist Angus MacGrath, an artist, sailor and navigator, who ‘defies his pacifist upbringing’ and joins the Army in order to find his missing brother-in-law.  In doing so, he leaves his young son behind in the small harbour town in Nova Scotia which they call home.  As a result of Angus’ action, both father and son are forced to ‘search for what it takes to survive, each trying in his own way to return to the other’.

The first chapter of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land opens on the Western Front in February 1914.  Angus has been sent to France, originally offering his services as a cartographer ‘behind the lines’.  As there were no shortage of men who could do just as good a job, however, he is sent into the infantry, ‘where shortages were never-ending’.  Much of the narrative deals with his experiences in wartime.

The opening scene of the prologue, in which an unnamed small boy is taking a boat trip with his father, is perhaps the most vivid of the entire novel: ‘In all this world there was only the gently rocking boat and dancing water.  All time – past, present and future – gathered and expanded and released.  There were no boundaries, and there was no fear of being without them.’  As the novel progresses, it is clear that Duffy’s descriptions have been well thought out, and they do help to further set the scene in places – ‘the water’s dance’, for example.

The third person perspective which has been used throughout does work well in terms of viewing the entirety of the battlefields, and the scenes of war which unfold against them, but it does serve to distance the reader from Angus.  Some of the scenes which should be the most emotionally charged of the entire piece are simply not powerful enough to sustain themselves.  Duffy’s strength lies in the way in which she portrays relationships formed in wartime, and how those which existed beforehand can alter so dramatically in the face of battle.  The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is a thought-provoking book, but it must be said that it is not the best or most vivid work of World War One literature by any means.  It is well plotted and relatively well written, but a lot of the characters do not quite feel realistic enough to raise it alongside books like Birdsong and All Quiet on the Western Front.

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One From the Archive: ‘We Sinners’ by Hanna Pylvainen **

First published in August 2012.

We Sinners is Hanna Pylvainen’s debut novel. It opens with the character of Brita Rovaniemi as she is asked to a dance by Jude Palmer, a classmate who is ‘tall and heavy with dark hair’. Due to her family dynamic, Brita reluctantly declines the offer and then spends the rest of the school year trying to avoid him.

Brita’s formative years are lived through in We Sinners. She is fifteen when the novel begins, an awkward age where she finds herself ‘too old now to be teased, and too young to be talked to seriously’. She is essentially victimised at the start of the novel, teased because of the way in which she and her six younger siblings live. Her religious family are seen as ‘brainwashed’, and she overhears one of her schoolmates telling their friends in an outraged manner that the Rovaniemis ‘don’t even have a TV’. The family, according to Pylvainen’s narration, ‘were in the world, but not of the world’.

During the hot summer at the beginning of the novel, the family decide to move to a house which is finally big enough for them all, and stay in their cousin’s apartment in the interim. They acquire a dog named Max after his former owner, the flat’s landlord, suddenly passes away.

Part of her yearning to remember her family’s origin and to better understand her parents who regularly speak in their native language, steers Brita to recite the Lords Prayer to herself ‘because it was the only Finnish she could speak in full sentences’. The children all try to fit in with those around them, the jeans they wear ‘the same cut as everyone else’s, only cheaper’. This sense of trying to simultaneously belong to both worlds, Finland and the United States, is present throughout the novel.

Along with the novel’s rather more amusing scenes – all of the Rovaniemi children having to have oatmeal baths when they simultaneously come down with chickenpox, for example – We Sinners includes many darker elements too. The Rovaniemis are very unhappy as a collective, sadly so at times. Whilst the author’s portrayal of this unhappiness is realised well, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity for her characters at times.

The novel is a little confusing in places, particularly with regard to who the characters are and how they fit into the family. This is especially true when one takes into account the many characters that people the church sermons, and the way in which the majority of Brita’s siblings are unnamed until quite a way into the novel. There are also rather muddled aspects within the family itself. At first, Warren and Pirjo Rovaniemi have seven children, a figure which quickly becomes nine. As the family expands, there is no sense of the passing of time. New family members and offspring merely appear whilst everyone else carries on as normal, acting the same ages and not progressing in their personalities or beliefs.

We Sinners is an interesting family saga and the constant struggling of the Rovaniemis for a permanent sense of belonging is well realised, but some aspects of the novel are definitely flawed. The often confusing and sometimes even contradictory family dynamic overrides the better parts of the book, which is a shame.

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‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton **

The Miniaturist, which uses the setting of seventeenth century Amsterdam,is Jessie Burton’s debut novel.  It has been dubbed a ‘feminist golden-age fiction’, focusing as it does upon slightly naive eighteen-year-old newlywed, Nella Oortman.

The Miniaturist begins in January 1687, with a funeral for an as yet unknown character.  The opening scene is both intriguing and vivid: ‘The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends.  But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot, and the church’s east corner is crowded’.  The narrative then loops back to 1686, beginning beside the ‘sludge-coloured’ Herengracht Canal in the city.

Nella has married the rich ‘power-broker’ Johannes Brandt, a man considerably older than she – when he ‘had asked for her hand, Nella decided to accept.  It would have seemed ungrateful and certainly stupid to say no.  What other option was there but… life as a wife?’ – but when she travels to her new home from the countryside, she finds him absent.  She is greeted by his sister, the neat-as-a-pin and rather formidable Marin.  Her relationship with Johannes does not unfold as she thinks it will, and she is soon disillusioned.

At the start of the novel, the sense of place has been well imagined, but this sadly dissipates somewhat in some of the scenes which follow the prologue.  The dialogue which Burton has crafted between her characters – like them, it can be said – does tend to be a little lacklustre, and it is rather too matter-of-fact to be sustained for the entire length of a novel.  The third person narrative perspective has been used throughout, and this does suit the story for the most part.  There are times in which it does let the storyline and emotions which it should be crammed with down, however.

The funeral in the prologue acts like a hook, drawing the reader in, but the rest of the book does not quite live up to expectations; one could almost say, sadly, that it disappoints.  The Miniaturist is nowhere near as absorbing as well-written as Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which shares a similar setting and timeframe, and neither does it live up to the work of Sarah Waters or Donna Tartt, which it has been compared to in its blurb.

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One From the Archive: ‘Sea of Ink’ by Richard Weihe ***

First published in October 2012.

Fifty one short chapters make up Richard Weihe’s Sea of Ink, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. The novella, complete with many wonderful pictures, portrays the life of Bada Shanren, ‘one of the most influential Chinese painters of all times’.

The book sets out the tumultuous history of the period in the first chapters, using succinct sentences to present all of the relevant information without overwhelming the reader. The book begins in the summer of 1644, a time in which ‘the Manchus brought the three-hundred-year reign of the Ming dynasty to an end and proclaimed the dawn of a new era’.

The story which Weihe has fashioned follows Zhu Da, the Prince of Yiyang, ‘the seventeenth son of the founder of the Ming dynasty’. After several transformations, Zhu Da becomes Bada Shanren, the painter who is ‘committed to capturing the essence of nature with a single stroke’. Through Bada’s painting lessons, we are immersed into the world of ancient Chinese art, able to imagine his every brushstroke through Weihe’s powerful descriptions. In one particularly exquisite passage, Weihe describes how Bada ‘cocked his wrist, whereupon the tips of the bristles pirouetted… then with another turn of the wrist he brought his hand down towards himself, lifting the brush from the paper in a slow but fluid movement so that the bottom of his line tapered as evenly as the top had’.

Much information has been included throughout, from the two ingredients, ‘soot and glue’, which were needed to produce the ink produced in the palace’s manufacturing workshop, to the ways in which the best ink can be recognised: ‘It should breathe in the light like the feathers of a raven and shine like the pupils in a child’s eyes’.

Some of the phrases throughout are just lovely: ‘Looking up through the water, he could see the dragon’s green shimmering eyes and flared nostrils in a cloud of steam’ and ‘He ran barefoot across the springy floor of the pine forest; he was dancing with the earth’. Small chunks of the prose itself seem rather simplistic at times and almost stolid at others, but this may be merely due to the translation. On the whole, a few of the passages do seem deceptively simple, but actually add a lot more to the story than is thought at first glance.

Sea of Ink is an incredibly interesting and evocative novella, which will appeal to a wide scope of readers. From those interested in Chinese history to those who enjoy painting or studying the work of artists, there is something for everyone included in these 106 pages.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Wine of Solitude’ by Irene Nemirovsky ****

First published in September 2012.

The Wine of Solitude is one of Jewish Ukrainian author Irène Némirovsky’s earliest novels. The author, whose family fled from Russia to France in 1918, was tragically killed in Auschwitz in 1942. She is best known for her book Suite Francaise, a collection of her memoirs compiled by her daughters, which was first published in 2004.

The Wine of Solitude opens with the character of eight-year-old Hélène Karol, an only child who lives with her parents, grandmother and governess in a tiny town in the Ukraine: a ‘sleepy provincial town, lost deep within Russia’. Through Némirovsky’s careful prose, we get to know the characters almost immediately. These range from kind and gentle governess Mademoiselle Rose to Hélène’s grandmother, ‘only fifty but she looked so old, so weary’. Hélène’s own childish thoughts have been woven throughout the story, and as such, the reader feels such sympathy for her. The animosity within her family becomes fiercer as her story progresses. Her mother sees her as ‘a living reproach, an embarrassment’, and she is described as an ‘impatient, ungrateful, deeply irritated child’. Némirovsky portrays the way in which ‘whenever she opened her mouth, everyone eyed her scornfully’ incredibly sensitively, sharing the reader’s anguish for Hélène’s plight.

It is made clear to the reader that her family life is far from ideal. Her mother, Bella, is more preoccupied with reading about the latest fashions than being kind to her daughter, and her father, Boris, perceived by Bella’s family as an ‘insignificant little Jew’, is a quiet presence who often works away from home. The only fondness in Hélène’s heart is for her father: ‘She felt related and close to him alone, part of his flesh and blood, sharing his soul, his strength, his weaknesses’. Her mother, on the other hand, both revered and loathed, is described as ‘a tall, shapely woman of “regal bearing” and with a tendency to plumpness, which she fought by using corsets’. She is given animalistic characteristics throughout, ranging from her ‘claw-like nails’ to her rather savage actions: ‘In the rare moments when she displayed any maternal affection… her nails almost always scratched Hélène’s bare arm or face’. Boris and Bella are forever squabbling with one another: ‘their quarrel was constantly interrupted by sudden moments of calm when they paused to gather their strength in order better to rip each other apart’. Only Rose and Hélène are kindred spirits, finding refuge and solace in one another’s company.

The descriptions from the outset are wonderful. The wind which blows into Hélène’s hometown from Asia ‘filled the air with a howl that faded as it disappeared towards the west’, and ‘the pale sky was like a crystal ball with the glowing traces of a pink fire at its heart’. The entire novel is incredibly well built up, from its descriptions to its characters. The Wine of Solitude is extremely evocative of the places and period in which it is set, from St Petersburg to Paris, and from Finland to rural France. The different sections of the novel all encompass one or two of these settings, the descriptions of which are perfectly balanced and really build up a picture of each city or tiny town in the mind of the reader.

Sandra Smith’s translation of The Wine of Solitude is faultless. She captures the turns of phrase from the original text incredibly well, never losing any of the original details of the story or of the wonderful descriptions. The human psyche has been portrayed incredibly well and so poignantly by both author and translator, and we follow Hélène’s formative years to several different countries as she falls in and out of love and loses her innocence.

First published in 1935, The Wine of Solitude feels wonderfully contemporary. The novel is both intriguing and engrossing, and the characters and varied settings are wonderfully constructed. It is certainly one of Némirovsky’s finest novels, one which has been perfectly realised and is written with such tenderness and compassion for its young protagonist.

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One From the Archive: ‘These Wonderful Rumours!: A Young Schoolteacher’s Wartime Diaries’ by May Smith ****

First published in October 2012.

These Wonderful Rumours! is the wartime diary of May Smith, a young schoolteacher from Swadlincote, Derbyshire. When the Second World War is declared, she is twenty-four years old and living with her parents. The diary has been wonderfully preserved by Smith’s son, Duncan, and has an insightful introduction, written by social historian Juliet Gardiner. Gardiner explains that war, with ‘its rationing, the blackout, shortages, privations, restrictions and regulations – as well as destruction, loss, injury and death – all impacted on the civilian population’. She also outlines the Mass Observation scheme which urged civilians to keep records of their wartime experiences, stating that ‘it is because the Second World War was a “people’s war” in myriad ways that the people’s experience is so valued’. Perhaps the most famous of these Mass Observation diaries is Nella Last’s War, which was serialised as Housewife 49 by the BBC. As a nation, our interest in these diaries has peaked in recent years, and May Smith’s contribution is a welcome addition to the genre.

Smith’s diary begins in 1938, before World War Two begins. Each entry is dated at the start and the first section includes an informative introduction to set the scene. This collection of diary entries is vivid from the outset, and each is filled with such warmth and personality. Humour is injected into almost every page, and the book as a whole is rich in detail. Smith jumps from the pages, coming to life once again before our eyes. The reader is both amused and humbled by the war which she describes – the rationing of food and clothes of which she is so fond, her love of going to the ‘flicks’, her various suitors, and the men she knows who have been sent off to war – and the way in which these events affect her.

More trivial aspects of life for a woman at the time have been included alongside the darker details of World War Two. Smith describes horrendous hairstyles which she is stuck with when her perms go wrong, being ‘bankrupt and in debt. Woe is me’, to ‘that most nauseating of all missions, Buying a Hat’, as well as entries such as one she makes in April 1939, which states: ‘There seems to be only one possible end – war and on a horrible and dreadful scale’. A vast array of subjects have been covered, from Smith’s description of her school duties and pupils to deliberating over ‘Christmas reading’ at her local library, and from various shopping trips to the way in which wearing gas masks make her feel ‘like a boiled lobster’.

The scope of her diary is impressive, and the balance between her own life and the events occurring across Europe has been perfectly achieved. She writes about the events around the globe with compassion: ‘the poor Poles are hopelessly outnumbered’, as well as disgust: ‘Old man Hitler,’ she writes, after an attempt is made to murder him, ‘seems to bear a charmed life! It will take more than a puny bomb to remove him from the face of the earth’.

When war is declared, Smith’s lack of compassion towards her job as a schoolteacher becomes clear: ‘Have 48 [children] in my class this year, but have hopes that they’ll be brighter than the last lot, who were dull and dozy’. She also humorously states in one diary entry that ‘… this week the children have been like demons. I’ve snarled like a hyena, roared like a lion and bellowed like a bull, and still have failed to curb their spirits’.

As the diary progresses, we get to know those dear to Smith – her friends and grandmother, as well as her parents. One particularly funny journal entry describes how ‘Aunty F came in announcing dramatically that Hitler is coming tomorrow, at which my father remarked that He would, now that he’s Just Finished Papering Upstairs’. Amusing anecdotes of other people whom Smith knows well have also been included throughout. One of the most humorous characters is a woman named Mrs Tweed, who arrives at the Smith residence at mealtimes, insisting that she hasn’t come round to be fed but would always ‘eat a hearty meal, nevertheless’.

These Wonderful Rumours! is an incredibly well written and absorbing account, which highlights how the Second World War impacted upon an entire town in South Derbyshire. Smith is a gifted writer, and one who surely deserves to have her utmost thoughts and feelings, wit and sarcasm, and love for life printed on such a large scale. Her diary is a wonderful memoir which brilliantly demonstrates the power of the human spirit over the adversity which prevails in wartime.

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One From the Archive: ‘There but for the’ by Ali Smith ****

First published in October 2012.

Ali Smith’s eighth published book, There but for the met with dazzling praise on its publication in 2011. Critics have heralded it ‘adventurous, intoxicating, dazzling’, ‘soaring, swooping’, ‘joyful, sparkling’ and ‘a real gem’.  The mixture of quotes at the outset of the novel are as diverse and original in their choice as Smith’s unique writing style, ranging from George Orwell and John Donne to Stefan Zweig and Katherine Mansfield.

As There but for the begins, Smith’s writing style is at once intriguing, and it feels incredibly fresh from the first page. Very few contemporary authors have such a way with words, or are able to mould the more mundane aspects of life into passages which feel both exciting and startling. Her character descriptions, too, follow such patterns.

In the prologue of There but for the, we meet a ‘pretty ordinary man’ who ‘looks like he’s wearing letterbox flaps’ across his face, and a rather endearing schoolboy, who teaches the man the correct way in which to fold a paper plane. They talk patiently to one another, and the dialogue between both unnamed characters is crafted perfectly.

The main thread running through the novel reveals itself at the outset of the first chapter. A middle aged man named Miles Garth has ‘locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party’, and nothing will rouse him from his self-imposed imprisonment. The novel’s protagonist is introduced as a result of Miles’ actions. Anna Hardie, a ‘woman who had met this man thirty years before’ whilst on a teenage holiday is drafted in by Genevieve and Eric Lee, the owners of the house, in the hope that she will be able to coax Miles from their ensuite bedroom.

On the surface, this seems rather an interesting choice of event to build an entire novel around, but Smith has perceived both her characters and their actions so shrewdly that it works immediately. The relationships between each character are built up in a believable manner, and the little foibles which all have been given have been very well meshed together.

There but for the is very contemporary in its style, and does not feel at all conventional. No speech marks are used to denote dialogue, and flashbacks relevant to the present day story have been enclosed in brackets, as have lulls in the one-sided conversations which Anna conducts with Miles through the door. Details are built up about Anna’s past throughout and she becomes a fully-fledged and believable protagonist almost immediately. There but for the is by turns amusing and provocative in terms of the questions which it raises for its characters.

Smith’s choice of words throughout is stunning, and the commonplace is not able to settle within the book’s pages for long. When we meet Anna, the following passage serves to introduce her: ‘But it was her fist she was standing there holding up, like a 1980s cliché of a revolutionary, ready to, well, nothing quiet. Batter. Break. Pound. Rain blows.’ This mixture of long and short sentences which has been utilised throughout create a pace which matches the story wonderfully.

There but for the is a wonderful novel which knits stories within stories together to create an absorbing and captivating picture of modern day Britain. It is certainly a must read from one of Britain’s best contemporary novelists.

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One From the Archive: ‘Tea by the Nursery Fire: A Children’s Nanny at the Turn of the Century’ by Noel Streatfeild ****

First published in October 2012.

Tea by the Nursery Fire tells the story of real-life figure Emily Huckwell, who went into domestic service when she was just eleven years old. Emily began her work as ‘a maid to wait on the nursery’, and soon had her position elevated to under nurse when her competency was realised by those she worked with and for. In this volume, Streatfeild tells Emily’s story, pieced together both from fact and family history.

The book is split into five different sections, beginning with ‘The Child’ and progressing to ‘Nursery Maid’ and ‘Gran-Nannie’. Born into ‘grinding’ poverty in Sussex in the 1870s, ‘near enough to the sea to smell it when the wind was right’, Emily was the eldest daughter of the Huckwell family. The Huckwells were, Emily told those in her charge, ‘a little better brought up than the other children in the hamlet, for her mother… knew what was what’. It was known from her birth that she would go to work in a grand house – ‘up would go her hair and off she would be sent to work’ – as her mother and grandmother had done before her.

We do not learn just about Emily, but of her family and those in her care. The third person perspective used throughout allows her memoirs to be read as something akin to a comforting story, which is a lovely touch. The sense of time and place in the book is evoked beautifully from the outset, and it is clear that Streatfeild has great compassion for Emily, who looked after her own father when he was young. Indeed, we as readers feel such sympathy for her, sent away at such a young age when she was ‘no bigger’n a gnat’.

This is not merely an important book from a social point of view. It also has regional information pertaining to Sussex in the period in which Emily lived there, and a wealth of historical details. We learn about the food commonly eaten in Victorian and Edwardian times and the standard of schooling in her small village – ‘there was provision for a clever boy or girl to stay on until they were eighteen, but this had never happened. Money was too badly needed in the cottages for such fancy nonsense’.

In fact, the book is wonderfully Victorian, both in its style and in terms of the language and dialogue used throughout. We enter a world of ‘gobbits’, the ‘tallyman’, ‘Pilgrim baskets’ and annual ‘gleaning’ in the cornfields. The divide between rich and poor is shown almost immediately, both above and below stairs. We learn what the staff thought about this great chasm between the standings of them and their masters, and the differences between the classes: ‘Funny gentry are, never seem to want their own children’.

With regard to Streatfeild’s writing style, Tea by the Nursery Fire is not always the easiest of books to read due to the lack of punctuation, and several sentences have to be read more than once. Still, the information which these sentences include is lovely in itself, both anecdotal and heartwarming. Small interwoven stories are included throughout, which has created a charming and interesting little book. Tea by the Nursery Fire is a must-read for anyone interested in Victorian and Edwardian history or the role of nannies, or for those looking to read a lovingly realised history of a marvellous woman.

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