by Marcia Willett
“It had given [Freddie] a kind of fierce satisfaction to reject his faith, to mock at him; yet how little satisfaction he’d given her.
‘I don’t think you care about saving my soul,’ she’d said to him [Theo] once.
‘Your soul is God’s affair, not mine.’ he’d answered ‘It’s not a contest, Freddy. You have free will.’
She’d felt snubbed, considering her soul to be something rather special that God was waiting for with bated breath, as an ornament to add to His glory.”
The book begins with three children waiting alone at a train station for their grandmother to pick them up and take them to their new home, the Keep, in Devon, England. We soon learn that they are orphans. Their parents and beloved older brother have been hideously slaughtered in Africa during the Mau-Mau rebellion. Right away, we are invested in the fates of serious and responsible 10-year-old Fliss and her psychologically damaged 6-year-old brother Sam (Mole.) There is also Susanna who is just a toddler. We come to intimately know their new family: their strong and loving Grandmother, the wise and kind Great Uncle Theo, an Anglican priest, and the two devoted retainers, Ellen and Fox. Later, Caroline is hired to be their Nanny. She quickly becomes an invaluable part of the family circle as well. We soon meet 3 other key characters: their older twin cousins, Hal and Kit (children of their father’s twin brother), and their mother, widowed Aunt Prue, who is good-hearted but rather flighty and silly.
The book is divided into 4 parts, each approximately 3 years apart. Marcia writes poignantly, amusingly, and sometimes beautifully of the lives and relationships, growing pains, love affairs, and dramas of all 3 generations. In her deft characterizations, she often does not take the easy obvious path. Your expectations are set up for one thing to happen, but things don’t go according to the way they might have if the characters were not as kind, smart, and sensitive as they are. Oh, they are flawed. They struggle. There is plenty of heartbreak as well as joy. And the reader is right there with them. We are not on the outside looking in. Marcia Willett is a talented writer.
By the end of the book, two marriages are in the offing, and Mole has gone a long way to gain control of his fears and become a successful adult. Free-spirit Kit is footloose and fancy-free, and Susanna is a charming and popular teenager. We are left a little doubtful about the prospects of Fliss and Hal. There are still some questions as to whether their chosen paths are going to work out. There is still a secret between the two of the seniors. It definitely leaves us anticipating the continuation of the Chadwick’s stories.
July 2, 2021