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Amberwell (1955)

by D. E. Stevenson

Series: Ayrton Family (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1959140,414 (3.81)51
The five young Ayrtons all grew up at Amberwell, preparing themselves to venture out into the world. Amberwell meant something different to each of them, but they all shared the idea that Amberwell was more than where they lived - it was part of them.
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» See also 51 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I'm quite late in finding out about the existence of this late Scottish author and her novels. (And despite some of its labels/categories on the internet, no, Amberwell isn't historical fiction. Historical fiction means the general period of the story is historical at the time the work is written. Fiction doesn't become historical simply because a book ages, and World War II was only about ten years before this novel was originally published. But anyway!)

The setting and old-fashioned, somewhat quirky feel drew me in as a lover of vintage fiction. The story was easily paced, relaxing entertainment for me from the beginning, with several parts that made me chuckle out loud.

About halfway through was when I started to care about some of the characters as individuals. Seeing the children grown up as new adults, having to realize and deal with the fact that their parents don't truly know them, and vise versa. I could understand the nostalgia as the younger generation would think back on their childhood years.

The effects of WWII also made that generation of characters more interesting. And the peril concerning one of their babies during the war gripped my heart. Now, I became disgusted during a chapter describing one character's relationship with their outright emotionally abusive spouse, and one young mother's terrible method of bringing up her children set my mental teeth on edge. But those scenes were relatively brief.

The one thing that really kept this from being a five-star read for me was the couple of times the characters used the expression "working like a black" or "like blacks" to refer to working hard. No, it isn't a compliment to Black people to use that expression, and it's a shame how long we've had to deal with stuff like this. It's a serious downside when it comes to trying older books especially. (If I've somehow gotten the wrong idea in this case, and the origin of that "working like" expression isn't a racist one as I think it is, do let me know.)

Anyhow. I did enjoy the novel overall, despite that it doesn't really have an ending. On the last page, the story just stops, pretty much, with the need for a sequel. So I plan on reading the second book. ( )
  NadineC.Keels | Aug 16, 2023 |
This is about the five Ayrton siblings, growing up before WWII at their family’s Scottish estate, Amberwell, and then their experiences during the war. In particular, it’s about the youngest two, Nell and Anne, who are educated at home, and overlooked and misunderstood by their parents.

Amberwell is delightfully poignant and insightful about family dynamics and growing up. I loved the bond between the siblings, and the strong sense of place, and the cohesive way the narrative ultimately pulls together, even though there are plot twists which strike without warning (much like in real life).

It seemed to her sisters that Connie had grown up with startling suddenness. They could not understand it. [...]
“It happens when you’re eighteen,” said Anne thoughtfully. “You’ll be eighteen next year.”
“But I don’t want it to happen!” cried Nell in alarm. “I couldn’t go out to parties and — and talk to people — and go downstairs to dinner and all that.”
“Perhaps when you’re eighteen —”
“Not when I’m eighty! I’d rather things went on just as they are for ever.”
Anne sighed. She knew things could not go on for ever.
“I don’t want it,” repeated Nell earnestly. “We’re much happier as we are.”
( )
  Herenya | Dec 22, 2021 |
A real charmer. As others have noted, this is a gentle, cosy book, that somehow manages to deal with war, death, domestic abuse, etc., and makes its points without whacking you over the head with it. It's a perfect little hug of a book (with tea and cookies after), and even though my usual reading is typically high fantasy or middle school childrens' lit, I couldn't get enough of Stevenson's world, and read far more than my usual allotment each night, finishing it up in 4 nights' worth of bedtime reading.

The plot is a bit rangy and I wrestled with the change in viewpoint characters, but (without spoiling anything) I think the shift makes you empathize more, so it could very well be a clever authorial decision.

I do love the tone of the narration, it's a style that doesn't seem practiced today nearly so much (direct and clear without seeming blunt or simple-minded)--hard to describe, but I always relax upon encountering it. I think it might be the kind of tone one takes when writing (my favourite) middle school novels, but about adult subject matter. It's right in the middle: not too simple, not too fussy, very easy to read.

Every character was distinct and clear and memorable--dear God, why can't this be a rule required before publication of every novel!--whether the owner of the stately home, down to the lowliest gardener's boy. I'm holding to 4 stars because the leap to 5 is not intellectual, it's involuntary, and generally involves sobbing at the end from misery because the book is over.

(Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s). ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Oct 13, 2020 |
In some ways Amberwell is a very sad book; in other ways it's quite happy. The tragedy of respectable selfishness in a family is not often a dramatic theme but when you see its effects on the lives of children, it gives you pause. D. E. Stevenson here starts the story of the Ayrtons, which continues in Summerhills.

I said the book was happy and sad; Stevenson's characters are also mixed. She manages to round them out with a little bit of darkness. When the idolized older brothers want a neglected sailor doll belonging to the younger girls, the girls of course give it up. But they always wonder about its fate. Turns out the boys destroyed it, using it for target practice. And yet the boys are "good guys," characters that you like and root for. And Aunt Beatrice, alternately a victim or a villain depending on how you look at her. Poor Anne. Poor Nell. I'm glad they get happy endings.

I'd read this again. Stevenson just carries you along in the life of the family and the events that shape their world. You're never on the edge of your seat, but you do find yourself reading to a very unconscionable hour because it's just so enjoyable. ( )
  atimco | Sep 20, 2018 |
I picked this up because I was to read a book published in the year I was born (1955) for the summer reading program at my library. I have loved D.E. Stevenson's work in the past and this one was no exception. Unlike modern fiction nothing to horrendous ever happens. It was a very relaxing comfortable read. Bad things do happen, but it all works out in the end. There is a gentle kindness to these books that I really enjoy. Don't pick it up if you dislike old fashioned cozy reads. But if you do this might top your list. I'm so grateful to Endeavor Press for bringing these wonderful older titles back into print. They kindly shared an advance copy with me in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  njcur | Jul 11, 2018 |
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Epigraph
When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill.

--William Blake
Dedication
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William Ayrton was born in Edinburgh in 1745.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The five young Ayrtons all grew up at Amberwell, preparing themselves to venture out into the world. Amberwell meant something different to each of them, but they all shared the idea that Amberwell was more than where they lived - it was part of them.

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