Review: No Surrender- Constance Maud

13 - No Surrender

Rating – 3*

No Surrender is a very rare find – an out and out suffragette novel. It is billed on the Persephone catalogue as just that, which doesn’t seem something outstanding but really, there aren’t any suffragette novels so this one is something special.

This book is something remarkable. It is a multi-faceted look at the suffragette movement of the early 20th century; from the mill workers to the upper levels of society. It looks at how the movement impacted on them and why they were passionate about it. It wasn’t just about gaining a vote as many people think, it was so much more than that and sadly so much more still needs to be done.

The primary character is Jenny, a young mill worker who wants so much and not just for herself, very little of it is for herself, but it is for the people she loves. She wants her sister to have rights to her children, her mother to have right to finances, and she wants equal pay for equal work. When Jenny meets Mary, a young, upper class girl, their joint skill-set proves powerful. Their different perspectives represent the cross section of women who fought for this change to the lives of women and children.

There is no doubting it, this book is powerful. It really brings home how determined and passionate these women were. Some of the passages in this book, particularly when the girls are subject to force feeding, are hard reading. But however uncomfortable it was, I kept reading because the fictional women in this book give voice to the hundreds of nameless women who fought for the freedoms that we, as women, have today. Sadly, there is a lot that needs to still be done even 100+ years on for equality, in both Britain and across the rest of the world. But this book really brings it home how lucky women today are.

However, this book wasn’t without flaws and while it really made me think I didn’t particularly enjoy the writing. I found it clunky, I found it hard to get through, when I put the book down I had to force myself to pick it up again. I am so glad I read this and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a brutal, albeit fictional, account of the early Suffrage movement in the UK. But it has to be 3* as I didn’t enjoy the writing all that much.

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Review: The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgeson Burnett

02 - The Making of a MarchionessI like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s fiction – I loved The Secret Garden, I really liked A Little Princess – naturally I assumed that I would enjoy her writing for adults but this seriously lacked something for me.

I honestly found this very dull. Her writing really lends itself to children’s fiction but it didn’t give itself to a romance novel whatsoever. Emily, our protagonist, is just really like a wet weekend. I found her insipid and dreary, I found reading this book really hard work because she was just so… dull.

The first half of the book is Emily making her way in the world, her rags to riches story essentially. The second half, the plot goes “gothic” –  I use the term lightly as I like and enjoy gothic fiction, this really felt like parody gothic. It really was just absurd.  There were also quite racist undertones which, while may have been acceptable when this was written, still made me uncomfortable when reading.

I really don’t know how many times that as a reader I was reminded that Emily was not intelligent (but she wasn’t stupid!) or that she was childish. There were so many other instances of being told what a character was rather than shown it. I felt bombarded by being TOLD things about the characters which I really would prefer to have explored more passively. The result was that I found it very difficult to care about the characters at all.

I initially gave this book 3* but upon thinking about it and writing this review I’m going to give it 2*. It was passable, it was at least coherent, but I just didn’t enjoy it whatsoever unfortunately.

Review: Saplings – Noel Streatfeild

saplingsThough I own a few Persephone books, this is the first I read and it was not in any way a disappointment. When I picked this up in a shop I had a feeling it was going to be one of those books that I just cuddled up and read – I wasn’t wrong!

It’s the story of the second world war as seen through the eyes of a group of children, the Wiltshire siblings, who have had a very upper-middle class background. The tone of the book at the start is no indication of how the story progresses as, ultimately, this book is heartbreaking! By the end of this book, most of the characters are detestable but you understand why they’re that way. Laurel wants to be loved, Tony is grieving, Kim wants attention and little Tuesday is just so damaged by what the war has done to her family that she’s hardly functioning. Seeing how a war has shaped these children and altered their family dynamic is really sad and, honestly, it isn’t something that I’ve seen explored in literature before.

It’s really hard to describe this book because, it isn’t really plot heavy, it is definitely a character study of events that pretty much everyone is familiar with, just told through new eyes. I think the nature of observing WWII through the eyes of children was something new and, actually, a very novel way to look at war. I’ve read very little fiction set around wars, especially WWI and WWII but it’s just not something that interests me (and I know that probably sounds a little bad, but it’s just not my thing). However, I think this was a really good look at it.

Once I started this book I couldn’t put it down. I had to, but I didn’t want to, and I read it in 3 sittings. I just love Noel Streatfeild’s writing, it’s fluid, it’s simple but it is absolutely wonderful. There were a lot of parallels in style with that of Ballet Shoes but it was definitely a lot more grown up and far less sunshine and rainbows! I think it could have been explored a bit more, some bits were surplus but on the whole it was wonderful. It was a cozy read in spite of the background and the story material. I’d happily recommend this to anyone who likes her children’s writing, enjoys WWII novels or just loves books about family dynamics. 4/5!