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Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

Saplings (1945)

by Noel Streatfeild

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
First published in 1945 and although the main characters of this novel are all children this is an adult novel rather than a children’s novel and quite different to the children’s stories by Streatfield that I’ve read (Ballet Shoes and White Boots).

The novel follows the four children of the Wiltshire family, a comfortably middle-class family, from the eve of WWII breaking out through to 1944. At first the four children (Laurel, Tony, Kim and Tuesday) are shown to be reasonably content and secure in their parents’ affections on a family holiday to the sea-side. But gradually we become aware through the conversations of the adults that change is coming; the family will be moving out of London to stay with their grandparents in the countryside as bombing is anticipated in London and the eldest children will be sent to boarding school as the grandparents can’t really manage all four children plus the additional evacuees they’ve been asked to take on. And as the war progresses there are further disruptions and tragedies for the children (and adults) to cope with.

Streatfeild certainly had a gift for writing from a child’s perspective and especially in describing how a child’s inner thoughts and feelings can be overlooked or misunderstood by even well-meaning and loving adults. She also had a gift for appreciating the psychological impact of the disruption and disturbance of war on otherwise comfortably off children in a way I wouldn’t have thought was so well understood at the time this novel was written. In that sense this is not a happy novel - none of the children are unaffected by what they’ve experienced - but it doesn’t end entirely without hope for them to process these experiences and recover from them. The book almost seems to be written as a plea for other grown-ups to acknowledge the psychological effects of the war on British children - yes, they won't have faced food shortages or the effects of war in the same way children in occupied Europe will have, but the effects of what they have suffered are still very real and need to be ackowledged.

Strongly recommended and definitely deserving of being republished. ( )
  souloftherose | Jan 29, 2019 |
Some fantastic sections and some less fantastic but the portrayal of the children, especially Laurel, is sensitive and insightful. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
One of Streatfeild's early novels for adults, before she turned to writing for children. It covers some of the same ground as her later works, but in less detail, and with much more focus on the adults in the family.

Interesting, but not nearly as engaging as her children's books--even the lesser ones. ( )
  readinggeek451 | May 15, 2015 |
Upper crust London family before, during and toward end of WW II and how the war changed their lives. Very focused on children - Laurel, Tony, Kim and Tuesday. ( )
  Jonlyn | Apr 11, 2014 |
Saplings is a smoothly written, engaging book, notable for depicting the British home front during WWII from the point of view of several children, but as the book progressed, there was a grating undercurrent of judgmental moralism. Some of the children’s behavior issues also seemed very schematic. While the author captures a number of nuances in her young characters’ behavior and reactions, the adults tended to be one dimensional. A quick and involving read but there were some annoyances.

In the opening chapters, the middle-class Wiltshire family is on a seaside holiday. The author nicely captures their happy, busy family life. It becomes clear that father Alex has planned this trip as one last good time before the war starts. He confides in his two eldest children, caring and intelligent Laurel and Tony, but tries to shield Kim, spoiled and self-involved, and Tuesday, the baby. Alex has to stay in London for his work but is determined to send his family to safety in the country. Lena, his wife, is rather selfish and shallow, preferring her husband to her children, so she refuses to go with her children and stays with him. The move is the start of a constant shifting, as the children move from one home to another, from school to various houses, and grow up with no stable home and family. Alex is killed and Lena falls apart, barely keeping things together. The trajectory of the family is traced as they try and sometimes fail to cope.

Lena becomes the center of the children’s home life after the death of their father but she is constantly criticized by comparisons that are made between her and almost every other adult in the book. Alex is an ideal father, almost too good to be true, and Lena resents the time he spends being a father rather than her husband. The children’s governess, Ruth, thinks of Lena’s love as more one of animalistic lust than a true love. Lena compares poorly to Alex’s loving, understanding parents, the more maternal/paternal servants, the motherly nanny and the perceptive, supportive Ruth. Laurel’s schoolmistress is more of a comfort to her than her mother after Alex dies. Even Alex’s harried, meek sister Sylvia, who makes meals that are pretty much toxic, comes off as better than Lena as she is able to effectively reach out to Tony. Lena is beautiful and fashionable but selfish, emotionally shallow, needy and unstable and jumps from relationship to relationship. She’s like a caricature of a bad mother even if she isn’t all bad. She occasionally likes to play with and comfort the children, as though they were toys or pets, and the author clearly thinks that the children are better off with her than without her. I will say that part of my annoyance might come from reading this book soon after The Rising Tide by M.J. Farrell, which also featured a beautiful and vivacious woman who prefers her husband to her children, loses him in a war, then engages in self-destructive behaviors and relationships. But Farrell makes her main character appealing as well as horribly selfish.

There is one character who almost makes Lena look good – one of Alex’s sisters, Lindsey. Lindsey is a successful and intelligent author but she is also a cold, selfish bitch. It’s notable that she is the only one of Alex’s siblings who is childless and her marriage is shown to be unhappy due to her controlling, bitchy tendencies. Lindsey is terribly one-note as a character and, along with Lena, is one of the obviously bad characters. At first it seems as though the “bad” characters are not only negative stereotypes of women, as Kim is also something of a selfish narcissist. However, school soon takes up most of his competitive, needy energy and he is less annoying in the latter half of the book. He comes out the least damaged of the Wiltshire children, suggesting those more sensitive and caring are hurt the most. Without Kim causing trouble, Lena and Lindsey are the ones responsible for further destabilizing and hurting the children even if at times they don’t mean to. The rather pat association of being “motherly” with being a good person is irritating.

The POV of the children is probably the strongest part as the author shows all the little frustrations brought on by the war and how, though they are not important, they mean everything to children who have only known comfort and love. Many of the adults try to protect the children by keeping things from them but they find out and this causes even more anxiety. The appearance of psychosomatic and behavioral problems is also realistically done at first. However, later on some of the problems seem rather too neatly set up. For example, Tony suffers a traumatic experience after Alex’s death. He has a number of symptoms but then after finally breaking down, confessing and being reassured, they all go away. Tuesday also has some issues due to the constant shuffling around but then her problems are immediately cured when all the family comes home. Of course the story is about the lives of the Wiltshire family but it almost seemed like there was too much focus on them. They have many aunts, uncles and cousins but the effect of the war on other families is only mentioned and never shown. Ruth has a service job but she is only shown being worried about her former charges. The Wiltshires make friends with some working-class children who have also been evacuated. They are later killed but this plot point is only there to show how it affects the main children and also to point out how wrong their mother, who called them back to the city because she couldn’t bear to be away from them, was. It almost made it seem like the problems of the middle-class were the most important thing about the war. ( )
  DieFledermaus | Nov 26, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Noel Streatfeildprimary authorall editionscalculated
Holmes, JeremyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my mother
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As the outgoing tide uncovered the little stretch of sand amongst the pebbles, the children took possession of it, marking it as their own with their spades, pails, shrimping nets and their mother's camp stool.
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Lena saw their strained, sullen faces, and suddenly it was more than she could bear. Was it not enough that she should have lost Alex? She fought, but loneliness and self-pity engulfed her...Laurel would have liked to have flung her arms round Lena...but horror kept her silent. She rushed to the door and flung it open. "Nannie, do come, Mum's ill or something." Then the two children raced out into the garden, pushing each other about and howling with laughter.
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The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mum is the next instalment in the successful and award-winning Girl's Guide series. In their previous books, Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio have helped readers find their dream jobs, boss without being bitchy, and even start companies of their own. But what happens when a career girl becomes a mum and her world turns upside down? Can you maintain your ambition and momentum at work while still being the kind of parent you want to be? In The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mum, the authors guide readers through every step of this tricky process, offering sage advice in their trademark accessible style. Working mothers themselves - and drawing on tips and stories from a host of other successful women - they know what it means to juggle the demands of home and office, and they're here to help the rest of us.Parenting.… (more)

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