Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Solitary Child – Nina Bawden

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Nina Bawden published 23 adult novels and 20 children’s books in a career that spanned five decades stepped into my life as a child with her book The Peppermint Pig which won 1976 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers. When was a little older her book about children evacuated to Wales imprinted itself equally and Carrie’s War became a huge favourite of mine. I didn’t write book reviews as a child but if I had done, I would have said that these two books truly transported me back in time, to vivid places with characters that I would never forget. Would The Solitary Child have the same effect, in short, I believe so the story so searingly and at times baldly stated means that Harriet’s choices will take a long time to dissipate.

The Solitary Child is an intensely claustrophobic novel which from what I can work out is set around the time it was first published in 1958, certainly after the war but long before it was conceivable that any female would consider a life without a husband a good route to choose in life!

The book revolves around Harriet, just twenty-two when she becomes engaged to James Random after knowing him for just a couple of weeks. James is a rich farmer who lives on the Welsh Boarders, older than Harriet and with the inconvenient dead wife in the background which we soon learn died in circumstances weren’t altogether respectable. The pair had met at a party:

There seemed to be no other way of meeting people in London; each chance invitation was a gateway to a less restricted future.

James did not hide the fact of his wife Eve’s death from Harriet, after leaving the party they went to a little pub where he told her.

But at the time I was appalled. Not entirely by the story because that seemed – at the time, anyway – to be almost unbelievable, but by his blurting it out so clumsily and publicly to me, a stranger. For a little time I though he was boasting, dragging in the unsavoury past as a kind of shabby success.

Harriet as the swift engagement shows, wasn’t overly put off though, the obsession with the first Mrs Random coming later when she moves to the farm and finds herself in amongst those who knew the couple, and their daughter Maggie. The farm is run by Mr Evans whose wife helps out in the house with her own daughter who has a child, yet no husband. James’ sister lives next door and the tension between these characters neatly bubbles beneath the surface – no shouty arguments for this bunch instead it is constrained but no less heartfelt for that.

It was not a new issue, merely a renewal of old anger. Looking on, I was aware of an enmity which astonished, not because of its sudden violence but because they had managed to keep it hidden until now.

With only a few years between them Harriet soon comes to love Maggie who although young for her age gives Harriet someone to focus on while her doubts about her husband grow as she’s exposed in small ways to what those who live nearby and those who work for him really think. Harriet is trapped in a life she isn’t prepared for and so the tension grows as her mind worries over the past. At one point the doctor is called and depressingly reflects the times:

They were talking. The singing in my ears was less loud and I could hear fragments of their conversation.
“Illness… some degree of hysteria… not uncommon.”

Of course the finale arrives and Harriet does eventually find out the truth of Eve Random’s demise which left me with a strong feeling of disquiet. In part this is precisely because the book reflects the time of when it was written, indeed the publishers Bello makes a point that:

Some aspects may appear out of date to modern day readers. Bello makes no apology for this, as to retrospectively change any content would be anachronistic and undermine the authenticity of the original.

I know that this review hints rather than says anything concrete about the book itself but I can confirm that the theme of a woman haunted by a previous wife whilst not a new one has a slightly different twist to it in this enjoyable yet miserable read.

The Solitary Child was my twenty-seventh read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in March 2015 after reading HEAVENALI’s wonderful review.
mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 1958
Publisher: Bello
No. of Pages:  234
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (October 25)

This Week In Books
Hosted by Lipsy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading When A Killer Strikes by RC Bridgestock the eighth in the DI Dylan series, written by two former employees of the police service. This book was published just last week on 19 October 2017.

Blurb

“Boss, we’ve got a body”.
Detective Sergeant Vicky Hardacre, greets him at the scene, but what awaits them behind the blood red door of Colonial House is undoubtedly a murder. The approach identifies several prime suspects. But who is telling the truth; and who is lying?
Before the killer can be caught, another body is discovered, this time in a putrefying mixture of mud and slime, lain among the remnants of decaying food within a waste-bin shelter. Now it’s the task of the man in charge to make the call.
Are the two murders connected?
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by working long hours, within strict budgets, and the usual pressure from above to obtain quick results.
However, Dylan is distracted by personal matters, with Jen being keen to seal the deal on a renovation project. He suggests they delay finalising the purchase; until he discovers the significance of the house, and that it’s about to be demolished.
In his absence, Jen’s pleas for help from his estranged siblings are answered, resulting in hidden secrets coming to light, as Dylan continues, through a twisting and turning plot, to ensure justice is done in respect of the murder victims, whose bright hopes for the future were cruelly snatched away. Amazon

This follows on from The Solitary Child by Nina Bawden which I have to say I found incredibly enjoyable in a miserable sort of way!

Blurb

The Solitary Child is a story of violent death and suspicion. Harriet becomes engaged to James Random, a gentleman farmer, monied but unpretentious. But his first wife, Eva, had died in what were called ‘unforgettable circumstances’; James was charged with murdering her and was acquitted. Breaking the news to her mother of her engagement was Harriet’s first ordeal: facing Maggie, the solitary child who was James’ and Eva’s daughter was more complex. Suspicions are not always cleared away by a verdict of ‘not guilty’. Here the suspicion which Harriet found surrounding her new home was so oppressive it distorted the relationships of the people involved into a nightmare climax. Amazon

Next I am planning to read The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths, the fourth book in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series.

Blurb

What do a murdered Brighton flower seller, the death of Cleopatra and a nude tableau show have in common? Read the most dangerous case yet for Stephens and Mephisto and find out.

Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ investigation into the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred… Amazon

What do you think? Any of these take your fancy? Please do leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Posted in Weekly Posts

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (October 17)

First Chapter
Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

My opening this week comes from The Solitary Child by Nina Bawden which is one of my own collection purchased because the author was a childhood favourite of mine with Carrie’s War and The Peppermint Pig being much read and treasured books on my shelf. Then I entered the world of book blogging and saw several of her books being reviewed on Heavenali’s blog So naturally, I purchased a few for myself including The Ruffian on the Stair which I read a couple of years ago – if you haven’t discovered Heavenali’s wonderful blog, I fully advise checking out her wonderful reviews.



Blurb

The Solitary Child is a story of violent death and suspicion. Harriet becomes engaged to James Random, a gentleman farmer, monied but unpretentious. But his first wife, Eva, had died in what were called ‘unforgettable circumstances’; James was charged with murdering her and was acquitted. Breaking the news to her mother of her engagement was Harriet’s first ordeal: facing Maggie, the solitary child who was James’ and Eva’s daughter was more complex. Suspicions are not always cleared away by a verdict of ‘not guilty’. Here the suspicion which Harriet found surrounding her new home was so oppressive it distorted the relationships of the people involved into a nightmare climax. Amazon

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro

Chapter One

“What a way to hear!” said my mother. Her heavy handsome face was patchy with cold, the wide sensual mouth tightened into a kind of denial. She spoke as if I had subjected her to some appalling indignity.
I avoided her eyes. “You must be frozen,” I said.
I opened the cupboard door and jerked at the flex of the electric fire. The pile of notes and newspapers that lay on top of it slid out into the room. Half-heartedly I tried to push them back and, failing, left the door jammed open. I felt her eyes on my bent neck as I knelt to plug in the fire.
I said brightly, into the stillness “How long have you been waiting? I’m sorry I wasn’t in. It must have been a beastly journey. Would you like a cup of tea?”
The words trailed emptily between us. She did not answer. I lit a cigarette at the bar of the fire and the sparks spluttered as the paper caught.
The issue, could be evaded no longer. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have told you before.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So although this book was first published in 1976 I think it eloquently captures a mother-daughter relationship and even after that lengthy intro we still have to find out what it was that she heard!

But, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Or perhaps you have a favourite childhood author who also wrote adult novels – give me your suggestions.