Mothering Sunday is the first Streatfeild book I’ve read that was written for adults – unless you count On Tour, which I guess you maybe could since it talks (albeit obliquely) about Victoria’s shocking flirty behavior. In Mothering Sunday, Anna, the mother of five grown-up children, has started acting strangely. She refuses to allow her favorite granddaughter to visit anymore; there are rumors that she has taken to wandering around aimlessly at night; and she refuses to even mention the name of her youngest son, Tony, who is involved in some unnamed disgrace. The four older children agree to get together with Anna to discuss her future, and to discuss with each other what’s to be done about Tony. The first six chapters are each devoted to one member of the family – Anna, the pompous Conservative eldest son Henry, brisk, well-organized, impatient Jane, intuitive self-effacing social worker Margaret, flighty, beautiful Felicity, and careless, shallow Tony.
There are a lot of people to keep track of in this book, as three of the children are married with children, and their spouses also figure in the story. I did occasionally find myself flipping back to try and remember who was married to whom and what children were whose. But surprisingly, what works best is when the family is all together. Noel Streatfeild creates a superb dynamic between the siblings, and between the family and the in-laws. She captures that thing about having a big family where everyone has these ideas about each other: Margaret will make do with whatever she’s given, Jane has to have her own way when she’s planning, Felicity won’t pay proper attention to anything she’s meant to do; the in-laws all think Henry is no earthly use. Lots of good family mythology, which gets affirmed or challenged by the other characters in the book.
Because there are so many characters, wanting so many different things, it’s difficult to develop them all properly. I ended up in sympathy with some of them, while not caring if others went and jumped in a lake – including Anna and Tony, unfortunately. The good characters didn’t get enough screen time, and the uninteresting ones too much.
So if this is anything to go by, I prefer Streatfeild’s books for younger readers.
Have you noticed that most authors who write books for children and books for adults are dramatically better at one of the two? And often the same goes for authors who write in two or more different genres? Or am I just imagining that this is a pattern? Or is it all down to personal preference and nothing to do with the actual merit of the book?