Brief Shining (by Kathleen Rowntree)

I came across Kathleen Rowntree almost by chance some years back, and liked the book I read so much that I asked for others as presents, and picked up still more second-hand.

However, it's taken me this long to get hold of 'Brief Shining', which has been on my wishlist for some years. It's out of print, and not all that easy to find; but on my recent trip to the UK I delighted to be able to find a copy in good condition, and at excellent value from the online used bookstore Abebooks UK.

The book is about Sally, who is eight years old as the story opens. She's a loving, dreamy and perceptive child who loves visiting her grandparents' farm in the Summer. She has a younger sister, Anne, who is much more of a tomboy: she is practical and down-to-earth. Most of the time, the two are good friends.

Their father is old-fashioned and rigidly moralistic, their mother is a busy, bustling and vibrant headmistress at a local school. Their grandmother floats through life ignoring most of what goes on around her; they also have three strange great-aunts, and a likeable Uncle, Jim.

We see these adults partly through Sally's eyes, and partly through the author's own comments as Sally grows up, understanding intuitively what most children miss. At thirteen, she finds the magic of childhood slipping away much too rapidly.

The novel is character-based, with not much plot as such. The main characters were very well-rounded and believable, and the minor ones were mildly amusing caricatures. As Sally matures, she becomes increasingly aware of the tensions between her parents; she never fully resolves the stresses, although by the end of the book she is grown up. Even then she sees the world primarily as a poet and artist, caring little about success or money, or what anybody else thinks.

Overall, I enjoyed 'Brief Shining', as a glimpse of an extended family over perhaps 15 years. Recommended, if you can get hold of it!

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 1st July 2008. All rights reserved.

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