Last week, I read three sad books in a row. Why? Oh, I don’t know. They were there on the shelf and I didn’t realise that I was diving into a sea of tragedy and loss. They were all non-fiction, too, which made my sadness even sadder. In future I will try for a bit more balance!
First I read Oranges and Sunshine by Margaret Humphreys. Child migrants to Australia; abused, exploited, unloved, lied to and then ignored by successive governments in Britain and here in Australia. Teary stuff.
Then Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. Some of the East Ender stories are funny and sweet, but poor Mary is the character who stuck in my mind. A 14-year-old Irish runaway, raped by her mother’s boyfriend, then “befriended” by a ponce (who she loves, poor little thing, as he’s the only man who’s shown her any tenderness). Practically imprisoned, she’s forced to work as a prostitute, then falls pregnant and runs away because she’s seen for herself what a backyard abortion is like… She encounters the author, and it seems like there might be a happy ending, but her child is taken from her for adoption to a good Catholic family. That’s the beginning of the end for Mary, who ends up in jail after kidnapping a baby. More tears.And I was definitely feeling down after finishing Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. It’s the story of the author’s friendship with Lucy Grealy. Grealy was a talented poet who suffered cancer of the jaw as a child and into adulthood continued to need operation after operation to try to re-make her poor damaged face. She could be insecure, depressed, needy and addictive but for Patchett (and it seems a crowd of other friends) Grealy’s charm and spark and brilliance seemed to make up for all that. It ended badly – of course – because all the love and reassurance in the world couldn’t put poor Lucy together again.
After three sad books, I was in need of solace. I went to a cafe and ate cake – date, chocolate and almond meringue cake with cream – and finished my library book.
It was Cicada Summer by Kate Constable from the library. What a charmer of a book it is. Though it’s not all sweetness and light, for the heroine Eloise has become mute after the death of her mother. Withdrawn and anxious, she’s virtually marooned with her reclusive grandmother in a country town. But at an old house with a tangled garden, she meets a girl from another time and together they paint a mural in the summerhouse. I loved the way Kate Constable has captured the excitement of creativity.
Colour exploded from her brush: with every touch, the picture flowered and swarmed into being. From Eloise’s imagination, it zinged through her hand and her brush and onto the wall, becoming something real. This morning it had been just an idea trapped inside Eloise’s head: now it was free, something new and fresh and anyone could see it. Making something: it was the best feeling in the world.
The ending is clever and satisfying, and it reminded me of my much-loved childhood favourite Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce.
Cake and a children’s book…just lovely!