The Children's Hour (by Marcia Willett)

In re-reading my novels by Marcia Willett, I reached another one which I very much enjoyed first time around. I read 'The Children's Hour' in 2005, about four and a half years ago, and counted it as one of my favourites.

This is the story of two elderly sisters, Mina and Nest, and their close family. Nest was seriously injured in a car accident which killed her sister and her sister's husband, and still bears emotional scars in addition to being quite disabled. Mina, ten years older, cares for her, as she cared for their mother in the past. She's a delightful person: wise and loving, yet also very human. Mina unwinds each evening with her email, and particularly enjoys chatting to a good friend whom she hopes to meet one day.

Towards the start of the story, Mina and Nest agree to have their oldest sister Georgie to stay, prior to her entering a nursing home. Georgie, sadly, has the onset of dementia and is very difficult to deal with. Mina's email friend Elyot understands since his wife is also suffering the same illness.

There are several different sub-plots in this book, which intertwine cleverly, revealing more about the family and the people concerned. The younger generation are brought in regularly: there's Lyddie, whose parents died in the crash that injured Nest so badly, who loves to spend time with her aunts. Her cousin Jack is also very likeable; we only meet him briefly, but I found myself warming to him tremendously. There are dogs, too, as so often in Marcia Willett's book; I'm not a dog person, but I found myself rather taken with Lyddie's dog The Bosun.

Much of the story involves flashback to Mina and Nest's childhood. Whereas this can be irritating or awkward, it was neither in 'The Children's Hour'. The present tense is used for long past events, and it works well. Georgie in her confused state is convinced she has secrets; as her sisters relate to her, their secrets from the past are gradually brought into the light.

I started reading it about three weeks ago, in a busy time of year, and found it ideal for reading last thing at night. The characters were memorable enough that I had little difficulty remembering who was whom, or what point I had reached the previous day.

Yet it wasn't so gripping that I couldn't put it down. It doesn't usually take me this long to read a book; yet in this case, it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience to feel that I almost knew the main characters. I was quite sorry when I finally reached the end.

Despite only having read it four and a half years ago, there was only one major event towards the end that I remembered clearly. Overall, I found the book moving, and very enjoyable, and look forward to reading it again in another few years.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 2nd January 2010

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