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Saplings (Persephone Classics) by Noel…
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Saplings (Persephone Classics) (original 1945; edition 2009)

by Noel Streatfeild

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2431447,405 (3.87)70
Member:Nymeth
Title:Saplings (Persephone Classics)
Authors:Noel Streatfeild
Info:Persephone Books Ltd (2009), Paperback, 377 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:General Fiction

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Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (1945)

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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 |
Do read this. Set in WWII the story takes us into the heart of the Wiltshire family drawing on their individual feelings and reactions to their experience of life in wartime Britain.

The settings and characterisation are second to none and the storyline compelling and fascinating. I just loved the beginning - on the beach, and the pure excitement of 'the saplings' at the thought of 'picnic and prawning', and the singing ..... 'the sea, the sea, the lovely sea'. It so set the scene for the distress, the horror, the sad and bitter sweet story to follow. ( )
  eas | May 12, 2012 |
This novel tells the story of the Wiltshires, a typical middle-class English family at the dawn of World War II. Most of the book deals with the concerns of the four children, Laurel, Tony, Kim, and Tuesday. In the beginning, the children are enjoying a holiday with their parents, very happy in the love and stability of their family. However, shortly after this idyllic experience, the children are forced to evacuate London and live in the countryside while their parents remain in the city. As the war progresses, the Wiltshires are constantly uprooted, and then a terrible tragedy makes life even harder for them. Ultimately, this book depicts the psychologically damaging impact of war on an ordinary, loving family.

This is the first Noel Streatfeild book that I’ve read, and it’s a very interesting one. Apparently she is more famous for her children’s books (Ballet Shoes and the like), and it’s clear that she has a talent for getting into a child’s mindset. The characterization of the four Wiltshire children is incredibly strong – the fears they have, the things that are important to them, and their perception of adults are all very convincing. I did get a little annoyed by the style sometimes, though: there’s almost constant head-hopping between about 20 different characters. Still, I became very invested in the story and wanted to know what would happen to the Wiltshires. In the end, the story is left somewhat unresolved, and there’s no indication that everything will turn out all right for the children. I think this book is worth reading, but it’s definitely not a feel-good novel.
2 vote christina_reads | Jun 9, 2011 |
The beginning was unpromising - a seemingly ordinary upper middle class family enjoying a day at the beach. My interest was snagged when it became clear that this is not a stereotypical happy family. Mother Lena sees herself first and foremost as a wife, a lover; her role as a mother is very much secondary. Nevertheless, the children have a devoted father, as well as a loving Nannie and a governess and their lives are privileged. Then comes the war, and gradually the family unravels and breaks down. Streatfeild shows the soul-destroying effects of war - of evacuation, of never having a settled home - on the children. Living through it with them in this book is a harrowing but instructive experience. [March 2006] ( )
  startingover | Feb 2, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Noel Streatfeildprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holmes, JeremyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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