19/07/2007

Looking Forward (by Marcia Willett)

It's been about eight years since I first came across Marcia Willett, and 'Looking Forward' is the first book of hers that I read. I was instantly hooked! This is a delightful story, the first of three about the Chadwick family in Devon.

The story opens with a tragedy - three recently orphaned children waiting at the railway station for their grandmother, Freddie, to collect them, in 1957. Fliss, the eldest, is only ten but she's had to take charge of her two younger siblings since the day they lost their parents and eldest brother. She's a responsible, careful, worrier, and very believable. Mole, her brother, is only four but seems to have lost the power of speech since the tragedy. Susanna, the youngest, isn't quite two... and as such is mostly unaffected by their recent loss.

The novel charts their gradual settling in to Freddie's home, their relationships with the rest of the family, and the way they each come to terms with the horrors of losing their parents at such a young age.

It's a strictly upper-class kind of family. There are servants in the family home, albeit very well-treated, and considered as family friends. The children all, sooner or later, are expected to go to boarding school, and the boys to enter some kind of profession such as the navy. It sometimes annoys me when authors make these assumptions, but it didn't worry me in this book. Perhaps the fact that it begins fifty years in the past helps to make it more believable.

The characterisation is excellent, not just of the children but their older relatives, and those connected with them. There are some very moving moments, too, which brought tears to my eyes, even on re-reading.

The style of plotting works reasonably well: the first section of the book takes place in 1957, then we fast-forward a few years to 1961, where the action continues and we learn some of the intervening family news second-hand. This continues through the book, which finishes in 1970. I don't really like hearing news in small flashbacks, so this is a slight problem with the book as far as I'm concerned, but it's not too annoying, and I quickly got used to it.

All in all, highly recommended.

The other two books in the Chadwick trilogy are: Holding On and Winning Through.

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