A Vicarage Family (by Noel Streatfeild)

I have enjoyed reading books by Noel Streatfeild since I was about eight or nine, and still find them excellent 'comfort reading' to dip into as an adult. So, although I'm not usually a huge fan of biographies, I decided to buy the first volume of Streatfeild's autobiography when I saw it inexpensively on the AwesomeBooks site a couple of months ago.

Although 'A Vicarage Family' is subtitled 'a biography of myself', it is written in the style of a children's novel. The author explains this in the introduction - that she felt uncomfortable putting thoughts and words into the heads of her siblings if she used their correct names. So, while the details of her life are (mostly) accurate, the characters have fictional names. Noel herself is thinly disguised as Vicky, the somewhat rebellious second child of a Vicar.

Vicky's older sister Isabel is quite frail, with regular asthma attacks, and her younger sister Louise is a somewhat precocious (and very attractive) little girl. There's a young brother, too, who at eight is packed off to boarding school; thankfully he thrives in this environment and seems a contented child. There's also a cousin, John, whom Vicky adores; he's perhaps the only one of her relatives to understand her fully. John lives with the Vicarage family when he's not away at school, because his parents are abroad.

I very much liked the way this book was written, showing Vicky's perspective on school (which, for the most part, she found tedious), on church and spirituality, on family life, and on the general unfairness of humanity. She manages to pick out interesting anecdotes and events in her life, and while inevitably other people's thoughts and feelings are invented, to some extent, they make her life seem well-rounded and a great deal more interesting than many factual biographies.

During the course of the book she matures in some ways, while remaining quite angry about the way other people treat her. I found myself drawn into the story quickly, enjoying it as a children's novel, while aware in the back of my mind that it was (essentially) a true story. It was quite moving in places, and I hope to get hold of the other two parts of her biography at some point.

Definitely recommended to anyone - adult or older child - who has enjoyed Streatfeild's books for children.

Review copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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