29/09/2004

A Scattering of Daisies ((by Susan Sallis)

I've come across one or two others novels by Susan Sallis, and have found them mostly well-written, and enjoyable. She seems to write family sagas in historical settings, on the whole. She doesn't ignore the unpleasant side of the past, but she doesn't revel in it either. I get the impression that her writing is honest and probably accurate, although I don't find her characters very appealing or sympathetic.

'A Scattering of Daisies' is the first of four books in the 'Rising saga'; it opens in 1902 with the birth of April, third daughter of Will and Florence Rising. We're immediately transported to a working class neighbourhood, where the rather grubby midwife known as Snotty Lotty wipes her nose on her sleeve as she prepares to deliver the baby.

Florence, it's clear, is from a slightly higher class background than Will, and finds the whole process of birth (and indeed conception) both degrading and distasteful. Will, by contrast, is a normal red-blooded man, and determined to have a large family. April is his fourth child, but he would like several more.

The plot then skips forward to the day when another baby arrives, less than a year later, but the birth is traumatic and Will is told that they must not have any more children if he wants Florence to survive. Will adores his beautiful wife, but is horrified when he realises that she not only wants to stop giving birth, she no longer wants to sleep with him at all. Inevitably he finds solace with a neighbour although he continues to be a good husband to Florence, and indeed an excellent father to his offspring as they grow up.

So the scene is set for a family saga that takes us with the Risings through the World War I years. The children grow and develop; there are trials and traumas, experiments with love and friendship, and a lessening of the class consciousness that dogged the early part of the 20th century.

This book is fairly fast-paced and interesting despite some rather sordid goings-on in the neighbourhood. Unpleasant realities are mentioned but never dwelt upon; pain is accepted but not described in minute detail. Squeamish though I am, I didn't find anything to make me shudder or wish I hadn't started the book.

Although I could easily distinguish the various Rising family members, who were well portrayed, I didn't find myself warming to any of them very much. I could imagine their appearances quite well and almost hear their voices; but I couldn't quite get inside their heads or hearts. Some authors have a gift for making me feel as if I know characters intimately, and I didn't find that happening at all with this book. On the other hand, I was interested to find out what happened so I kept reading.

No comments: