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Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
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Good Daughters (1984)

by Mary Hocking

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This is the beginning of a family saga, opening in London in the early 1930s; the first novel of a trilogy.

The story is told by in the third person, the perspective moves around the family and some of those who cross paths with them, but at the centre of the story is twelve year-old Alice, one of three sisters, the middle one.

She was at that interesting stage in life when she had the security of home and family but she was also beginning to see some – but by no means all – of the possibilities that life might have to offer.

Her father, Stanley, dominates his family. He is a headmaster and a lay preacher and he has firm – and maybe idealistic – views about his family should live. He studies his newspaper carefully and he worries about what is happening to the world and what will happen to his daughters when they are grown. His wife, Judith, appreciated his and her daughters feelings and she managed things beautifully, with practical good sense and wonderful diplomatic skills.

The story of their eldest daughter, Louise, propels the plot. Her parents hoped that she would go to university but Louise wanted to be an actress. She persuaded them to let her join a drama group, she let them think it was at her girls’ school, but it wasn’t.

And Louise caught the attention of the boys in the group ….

Meanwhile, Alice is juggling friendships with two girls from very different backgrounds who do not get on. Katia is the daughter of a family of Russian-Jewish refugees, while Daphne comes from a more privileged, but probably less happy, background.

Mary Hocking as much pays attention to her secondary characters as her principals, and so the story of those girls and their families brings another aspect to the story, and illuminates the diversity of 1930s London wonderfully well.

Accounts of school life, where the narrative perspective moves towards their teachers are particularly well done. Mary Hocking worked in education until she could support herself by her writing, and it is clear that she had strong feelings and a depth of understanding.

Alice was an average student but she discovered a talent for writing; that confirmed the suspicion I had from the start, that a great deal in this story was drawn from life.

Mary Hocking paints pictures of family life, and of the world around the family, wonderfully well. Her evocation of time and place is pitch perfect, her period details are well chosen, and I didn’t doubt for a moment that she knew and understood everything that she wrote about.

She wrote well, simply and clearly, in good, old-fashioned English.

A wide-ranging cast of characters and some trips away from home - including one to Cornwall, that probably explains where Mary Hocking got her very Cornish surname - meant that there was always something to hold my attention.

But I have the same reservation that I had last time I read one of her books.

The narrative style and the writing style held me at a distance from the story and I would have liked to be a little closer. to feel that I knew -rather than knew of – the Fairley family.

I wish that she had written this book in the first person, and I am sure that she had the understanding, the grasp of her material, that she could have done it. For me, either a little more immediacy in the storytelling or a little more beauty in the prose would have really elevated this book.

That is not to say that it isn’t a very good book. It is!

Mary Hocking was a very fine chronicler of an age she lived through.

And I am eager to read the second and third books of the trilogy. ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | Apr 6, 2016 |
I'm moving right on to Book Two in the trilogy of the story of the Fairley family (for it really is about more than the daughters). Book One was set in the late 1930's and culminates with several events that show how the world is about to change - an internal family matter and then an external event - both seem to push every one of the Fairleys into a new and often uncomfortable paradigm. Among the many aspects to love - Hocking weaves a story that is both plotless and full of momentum, she creates rounded characters who do unexpected things, which are, upon reflection, very much in character, there are quiet moments out of time, when one character or another experiences a moment of transcendence. ****1/2 ( )
2 vote sibyx | Jan 19, 2014 |
Good Daughters by Mary Hocking; (5*)

This, the first volume of Hocking's trilogy spans both the years of wartime and the lives of one London family. The Fairley daughters are growing up in the traditional world maintained by their father. This world is shaken by the girls' discoveries of life and what comes with it.

Mary Hocking writes with humor and sympathy in her depiction of the Fairley sisters growing up in their close knit West London neighborhood before, during and after the war. In the first novel of this trilogy, the girls are sheltered in a world whose traditions of hard work and simplicity are upheld by their Methodist father and their strong, quiet mother. But as love comes to Louise and adventures tempt Alice, unsettling emotions & thoughts lurk amid terrible rumors traveling from Germany -- rumors of the catastrophe to come. Claire, the baby of the family is young enough to be so busy with her friends & play that she is unaware for a time of the things to come & realization only comes as she becomes aware of her reactionary family.

I found this to be a lovely, moving and satisfying book on so many levels and I immediately moved on to the 2nd of the trilogy, Indifferent Heroes. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Aug 7, 2013 |
Mary Hocking has been a recent discovery for many of us over on the Librarything Virago group. I read A Particular place a couple of months ago, and knew immediately I wanted to read all her books. How delicious it is to discover a new author. Mary Hocking – who it seems is scandalously out of print – is a lovely sort of mash up of Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, also her books seem reasonably easy to get hold of second hand -phew! Why someone like Persephone or Virago aren’t rushing to re-issue her books is something of a mystery.

Good Daughters is the first book in Mary Hocking’s Fairley family trilogy – I have the next two waiting to be read. The novel opens in 1933, the world is on the brink of great change, and so is the Fairley family. Sisters: Louise, Alice and Claire live in a traditional family home ina suburban street with their parents. Stanley Fairley is the headmaster of a boys school and a Methodist lay preacher. Although a loving father Stanley is quite strict with his daughters, he finds so much in the changing world around him to disapprove of. Louise wants to be an actress,and her requests to take acting parts in a dramatic society production are met with great suspicion. Alice invents stories, climbs trees and over the course of three years begins growing up and making sense of the world around her. Most of the story of the Fairley family is seen through Alice’s eyes who seems to be a fairly autobiographical creation. The youngest sister is Claire a dreamer, who finds it hard to keep her sister’s secrets.

It was apparent that the head of the house was present. Although he lacked the stature for natural authority, being a little short of medium height, he nevertheless, on entering a room, contrived the impression of a substantial force; an effect achieved mainly by a certain fierceness of expression and the thrusting of his stocky body against the air as though he was forever pushing an unseen opponent before him. Forcefulness alone would probably not have been sufficient to sustain dominance over a long period of time, but he was fortunate in having his wife’s support. She had suffered in her own childhood from the lack of a man at the head of the table and was not minded to go through her marriage as her mother had hers. She therefore reinforced her husband’s position while not always accepting his judgement

Next door to the Fairley family live the Vaseyelin family, the Fairley sisters are drawn into the lives of Jacov and Katia and their faded mother, their father who doesn’t live with his family but plays Violin outside a London station. It is at the Vaseyelin house that they meet Guy Immingham. Katia goes to school with Alice, and they are good friends, but Alice’sother friend Daphne Drummond doesn’t like Katia. Both Daphne and Katia’s families differ to the Fairley’s and Alice’s involvement with them change her, and influence her understanding of the world. Daphne’s father is a deeply unpleasant man, Alice witnesses him with another woman, and his right wing politics have influenced the way Daphne thinks too. Louise is friends with both Jacov and Guy, both of whom are involved with the drama she loves so much, Jacov in helping to produce the play she is hoping to take part in, and Guy as a fellow actor. Guy’s mother is a snooty woman who lives her life through her golden boy, she strongly disapproves of Louise and considering her determined to “get” her son. Claire is able only to fully commit herself to one friend at a time, and we see her changing childish allegiances and the way her friend of the moment directs her behaviour at home. Poor Claire suffers a bit from being the youngest often the last to know what is going on, required to keep quiet about things she is dying to talk about, and necessarily reduced to frequent tears when she incurs her sister’s wrath.

Mary Hocking re-creates family life at this crucial changing time in England’s history faithfully and realistically, there is a fantastic sense of time and place, lots of good period detail. Alice spends a lot of time at cinema, mooning about the 1930′s stars of the silver screen. Stanley Fairely keeps a eye on the news from Europe, and Alice expresses mild concern at Katia’s proposed trip to her Grandparents in Bavaria.

I know a lot of people out there are reading or planning to read Mary Hocking so I am loathe to say too much more about the story. This is an excellent start to a trilogy which I know know I will continue to enjoy, and I am looking forward to the rest of the trilogy with enthusiasm. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Aug 5, 2013 |
Mary Hocking's autobiographical trilogy starts off with Good Daughters, set mainly in London 1933-36. Hocking has a simple, economic prose style, yet manages to pack a lot in without overwhelming the reader. Likewise, the period detail is always appropriate - she doesn't mention chamber pots or Jessie Matthews records or Clark Gable movies just to remind you that this is 1930's England. The chamber pot helps complete a picture of slum life; the Jessie Mathews record heard through an open window leads to a shocking revelation; the Clark Gable movie gives insight to the views of two characters, and so on.

Another aspect of the novel that struck me early on and stayed with me was the vague sense of tension and unease felt by almost all the characters, partly due to events in their own lives and (whether they realize it or not) partly due to the threat of war. Hocking pays attention to her minor characters as well as her major ones - her miniature portraits can be marvelous.

Although Hocking is an omniscient narrator, much of the story is seen through the eyes of middle daughter Alice, a fictionalized version of Hocking's 12-to-15-year-old self. In the hope of discovering the secrets of the adult world, Alice longs to see the "adult" films forbidden by her father. As events unfold, real life shows Alice "secrets" of the adult world that would never have been shown in a glossy Hollywood Gary Cooper/Claudette Colbert vehicle. Hocking packs a real punch (not unexpected, but effective all the same) at the end. Highly recommended. ( )
5 vote Leseratte2 | Jul 6, 2013 |
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TO BARBARA
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In later years, Alice heard people talk as if those who grew up during the period between the two wars had lived their youth beneath the shadow of the swastika.
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'In laters years, Alice heard people talk as if those who grew up during the period between the two wars had lived their youth beneath the shadow of the swastika.  But it had not seemed like that at the time.'  Mary Hocking brings good humour and sympathy to her depiction of the Fairley sisters growing up in their close-knit West London neighbourhood before, during and after the war. Here, in the first novel of a trilogy, the girls are sheltered in a world whose traditions of hard work and frugality are upheld in their Methodist father, Stanley, and their strong quiet mother, Judith. But as love comes to Louise and adventures tempt Alice and her friend, unease lurks and terrible rumours travel from Germany - auguries of the catastrophe to come.
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