The lovely Rachel of Book Snob sent me Diana Tutton’s Guard Your Daughters, a book that is reminiscent of, but not nearly as good as, I Capture the Castle. The five Harvey sisters have grown up rather isolated, with their invalid mother and their father, a famous mystery writer. The eldest, Pandora, was recently married, and now the next two girls, Morgan (our narrator) and Thisbe, are sort of on the lookout for men to marry, even though they have basically never met a man before. Two men show up in pretty short order, and everyone goes into a tizzy.
It’s not better than I Capture the Castle. I didn’t want to compare them, but you can’t not compare them. I kept thinking that Diana Tutton should have put some sort of “inspired by” notice in the front of Guard Your Daughters, because the basic structure of the book is so much like I Capture the Castle. Instead of crazy Topaz (wonderful Topaz!), there’s the frail, affectionate Harvey mother; instead of the failing Mortmain father who has not written anything in years, there’s the successful mystery novelist Harvey father. But in both cases it’s a group of girls living strange lives in isolated rural parts of England, wishing they would have a chance to meet men and get married and be taken away from all this.
Like I Capture the Castle, the book is, in the main, extremely charming. Morgan and Thisbe and Cressida are all fun characters to spend time with. I loved it that Cressida was the put-upon sister, and the way Morgan and Thisbe know they should pick up some of the extra chores but then don’t bother because they know Cressida will do it. That is a true thing from real life, y’all. I am okay about doing chores, yet when I lived with a girl who was a neat freak I never did anything. Because she was going to do it better, and with fancy cleaning tools. I also loved it when Pandora would come home from London and talk to Morgan about how strange and isolated their life was — you could see Morgan’s dilemma exactly, how she was hurt by what Pandora was saying, and also how she recognized that there was an extent to which Pandora is right.
What made it work less well for me than I Capture the Castle was that it came off a little affected. Cassandra Mortmain could have come off affected too, except that Dodie Smith very sensibly had another character accuse her of being self-consciously naive early on; and then the reader didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I like knowing that the writer knows more than her characters. That’s how it should be! The writer shouldn’t be taken in by the character’s quirks! I didn’t feel that Tutton was in control in the same way. Not Thisbe and not really Pandora, but the other three sisters are affected in the way they think and talk, and nobody ever really talks about it. I kept worrying about that instead of focusing on the story.
My other small gripe was the way characters dropped in and out. The dashing Gregory — spoiler alert! — we scarcely hear from again. Patrick is in and out; Pandora is in and out; I don’t know, it made it difficult to know what the thrust of the story was. But when they were in, they were really fun. Diana Tutton draws wonderful characters, and I enjoyed them one and all. I could have done with more from Gregory, who was entertaining, and more from Pandora, who was serious and engaging and could have been fun interacting with her sisters.
Overall very good! Recommended.