In Sunshine or Shadow (by Charlotte Bingham)

I have slightly mixed feelings about Charlotte Bingham's books. I have really enjoyed some of them, but been less impressed by others. I seem to have collected quite a few, mostly second-hand - but still have three or four unread.

So I decided to try 'In Sunshine or Shadow', a fairly long novel - over 500 pages, unsure what to expect.

In the early chapters, we meet the two girls who are the main protagonists of the story: Ellie and Artemis. Their circumstances are about as different as is possible: Artemis is an upper-class English girl, an only child who lives in a large estate with several servants, and grows up around horses. Ellie is a fairly poor American girl with four older brothers.

However, they both lose their mothers at a young age - Ellie's mother dies giving birth to her, and Artemis's mother dies in a riding accident - and both have fathers who give them no affection. The difference is that Artemis's father is basically selfish, although he's fond of his daughter in a vague kind of way; Ellie's father is much more passionate, and hates Ellie because he feels she killed his wife by being born. So while Artemis is mostly neglected, Ellie is beaten and verbally abused. Ellie's only friend is Patsy, the youngest of her brothers.

The book charts both these girls growing up, and inevitably they meet. It's on a ship, going from the USA to the UK after Artemis has stayed there for a while. They become friends despite such different backgrounds, and Artemis is determined that they should stick together. Yet she's an off-hand kind of person who finds it difficult to settle to anything, or make a commitment.

I didn't find myself deeply relating to either of the girls, or indeed anyone else in this novel. There are one or two amusing moments - such as the butler at Ellie's Auntie Rose's house - and a rather moving section later in the book when a child is very sick. But most of the time I didn't find my emotions particularly stirred at all.

On the other hand, I quickly got caught up in the various sub-plots of the book which are cleverly woven together. Charlotte Bingham writes well, and her characters are memorable if not deeply sympathetic. I certainly got a feel for the upper-class horse-mad family where Artemis grew up, and for the struggling Irish American community where Ellie was raised. I'm not usually very interested in war-years novels, but this one didn't have too much detail about the war itself (World War II begins towards the end of the book) - and the one unpleasant incident which is described is vital to the plot, and not too gory.

All in all, I found myself picking up 'In Sunshine or Shadow' at odd moments and reading avidly - I enjoyed it, and am determined to read the rest of my books by this author, over the next few months.

Published in 1991, this is still in print in the UK, and widely available second-hand.

Copyright © Sue's Book Reviews, 8th June 2008

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

I once bought a Charlotte Bingham book for my wife as a birthday present -- by mistake. We had both enjoyed Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks, and I confused the "Charlotte" in the title with the Charlotte who was the author. Both were wartime novels, but neither of us could be bothered to finish the Charlotte Bingham one. We'll probably use it for Book Crossing!