05/10/2014

Far to Go (by Noel Streatfeild)

Having just finished reading my newly-acquired Noel Streatfeild book ‘Thursday’s Child’, it was an easy decision to pick up the sequel - one that I’ve had on my shelves for many years, but have not read in a long time.

‘Far to go’ continues to feature the determined Margaret Thursday, and starts at the place where ‘Thursday’s Child’ left off. Her close friends have gone to live in Ireland, but Margaret want to make a name for herself. Having discovered a talent for acting, she wants to use it to become famous.

Aided by one of the staff at the tent theatre where she has been playing ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’, Margaret auditions for a play in London. She loses her temper when she thinks the manager is looking down on her, and this gains her the part - and entry into a very different lifestyle. Margaret make new friends, and learns a great deal about acting.

However also learns that she has an enemy: the Matron of the horrible orphanage where she was sent at the start of the previous book. It’s not necessary to have read ‘Thursday’s Child’ before embarking on this one - explanations are given when needed, and are not over-long; but I think I enjoyed it more reading it as a sequel, knowing all that had gone before.

Set at the start of the 20th century, there’s a realistic backdrop to the story with horse-drawn carriages, pea-souper smogs, and a strongly demarcated class system. It’s all taken for granted, as are the slums - which undoubtedly existed - and the terrible treatment given to some unfortunate orphans. Matron is a caricatured villainess, and her appearance is mercifully brief; but there were, no doubt, people of this kind in an era where children were not all valued as they are today and no protection was given to those without relatives or money.

I often find that Streatfeild’s books end a bit abruptly after the resolution of a dramatic climax, and this is no exception. Indeed, it’s not a long book at all; just over 125 page in paperback, I read it in a little over an hour. I would have loved another sequel, but there isn’t one. Margaret is an appealing child with a great deal of character, and I’d like to have known more about what happens to her various friends.

Unusually, too, some threads are left entirely unresolved. No mention is made of what happens when Margaret’s ‘tent theatre’ employees finally catch up with her, for instance. Nor do we ever learn about Margaret's ancestry, or why the funding ran out at the start of the first book. Noel Streatfeild is usually good at tying up loose ends, even if she leaves the future open for her main characters, and this makes me wonder if she had planned to write another book about these characters.

I would certainly recommend this if you’ve read ‘Thursday’s Child’, or are a fan of Noel Streatfeild in general, although 'Far to Go' is not one of my favourites. The writing is good and the social history aspect - as well as the insights into the theatre of the era - adds some general interest that might make it appeal to boys as well as girls. Fluent readers of about eight or nine would be most likely to enjoy this, although it was originally intended for children of about ten to fourteen.

Not currently in print, but sometimes available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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