I forgot to write a review of this. I was reading A Map of Home, and something about the family dynamic reminded me of Thursday’s Children – funny because it’s nothing at all alike – and I was suddenly possessed of an ardent desire to read Thursday’s Children again. I have loved Rumer Godden since I was a little, little girl (Daddy used to read us The Story of Holly and Ivy around the fire, when we were small and it was Christmas), and this may be my favorite of all Rumer Godden’s books.
It is all about the Penny family, particularly about the two youngest children: Crystal, the longed-for girl after four boys, who is being groomed by her mother to be a ballet dancer; and Doone, the unpleasant surprise of a sixth child, who wants to dance more than he wants anything. Nobody is very much in favor of this, for Doone.
Rumer Godden is at her best in this book. She has this very particular style of writing – she will be writing a scene, and she will insert some little comment that another character made when they heard about it later. It works so well here, to give the reader a good sense of the character doing the commenting; and as well, it casts a perspective on the scene that’s happening beyond that of the characters living it. In a book with as big a cast of characters as this one has, this is the perfect technique to make them all come alive. And there are a lot of people in this book: it’s the four central characters, Doone and Crystal and their parents, and then it’s the people at their first dance school, their second dance school, their third dance school, all the music teachers Doone meets, and so on and so forth.
What’s particularly moving, though, is the set of relationships between the four members of the Penny family. The parents are so well-intentioned, and they don’t know what to do with Crystal and with Doone, and the mistakes they make, when they are trying to do right, are just heart-breaking. They make such sacrifices, and sometimes all for nothing. I’m getting teary, thinking about it. Kirkus says this book is goopy treacle, but I swear to you that it is not.
A Candle for St. Jude and Listen to the Nightingale are two other of her dancing books that I like a lot (the latter is for younger children); In This House of Brede is wonderful too, all about nuns; and there are loads of books for children that are good. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and its sequel Little Plum were the first two I read – a little girl called Nona gets two Japanese dolls and her cousins start to build her a proper Japanese dollhouse; and then in Little Plum there’s a wonderfully nasty feud between Nona’s cousin Belinda and the little girl next door, Gem. Candy Floss is good, and The Fairy Doll, and recently we discovered Home is the Sailor, which I loved. The Diddakoi (sometimes it’s called Gypsy Girl) is one I read a bit later in life, but it’s still wonderful; and then my most favorite of her children’s books, The Doll House, which is about a family of dolls and the two little girls who own them, and about getting them a really nice dollhouse with proper chairs and cushions and things. I never played much with dolls as a kid, and I still loved all of her books about dolls. They sound precious but they were self-aware and ironic enough to avoid that. I feel.