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The Flight of the Maidens - Jane Gardam

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Paperback: 288 pages / Publisher: Abacus / New Edition: 4 Oct 2001

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      19.02.2013 22:11
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      A nice enough coming of age novel set in the late forties

      The Flight of the Maidens - Jane Gardam
      ISBN-13: 978-0349114248

      This is another of my Bookcrossing finds and once again the cover attracted me. It shows three young ladies lying on a beach in a fifties sort of style. They look happy and the appeal to me was the nostalgic and rather romantic vision created by this image.

      ABOUT THE AUTHOR
      I admit that prior to reading this novel I had never heard of this author but I have since discovered that she has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for a lifetime's contribution to the enjoyment of literature. She has also won a Whitbread Award twice and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

      THE STORY
      This novel is set in the post-war summer of 1946. We meet three young girls who have just left school and are waiting to go to university and we follow what they did in this summer.

      The three girls are Una Vane, whose widowed mother runs a hairdressing salon in her front room. She spends her summer bicycling and staying in youth hostels with her local boyfriend who is a delivery boy.

      Hetty Fallowes who has a loving but rather possessive and busy body mother and a father who it seemed to me had suffered from shell shock in WW1 and wasn't able to be much support to Hetty really. Hetty decides to escape her mother's over protective cape and go and stay in a B&B in the Lake District to read all her reading list prior to university.

      Lieselotte Klein, a Jewish orphan who had arrived in 1939 on a train from Hamburg and stays with a Quaker couple until one day a car comes to take her away to relatives. They turn out to be Jewish but not related to her but wanting to adopt her. She then discovers an aunt in the USA and travels over at the aunt's expense only to discover things are not quite what she thought.

      WHAT I THOUGHT
      This is not a tense page turner by any means but I was pleasantly carried along with the gentle story and enjoyed the way the author wrote.

      I liked the fact that we didn't try and follow all three girls at the same time. The author took one and we followed her story before moving on the next and finally the third. The others were mentioned while following one girl's story and it wasn't until the end that the stories merged again.

      I did enjoy the way the characters were portrayed and even the side characters came to life and had endearing or annoying qualities so were memorable. The three girls were all delightful with that mix of naivety and intelligence that gilrs have at that age. They are keen to enjoy life and explore its possibilities and are not yet ground down with the strains of life despite having lived the Second World War. Perhaps that is what makes them so enthusiastic about getting on with their own lives.

      Gardam paints such a great picture of a northerly town in the late forties with all the interesting characters and the descriptions of the cafe, the houses and the views of the characters too. I do not have any personal experience of this time in history myself but it seemed accurate from my watching of films and documentaries.

      The main theme in the novel is that of three girls becoming young women, finding their first loves and moving away from home for the first time for two of them. It also touches on personal loss and relationships within families, specifically Hetty's with her mother which was very close but problematic and I thought Gardam wrote about this relationship very well.

      I enjoyed the novel but can't say it was 'un put down able'. In fact I had not finished it before we were due to fly to Iceland and so I left it at home as I know it would not last the few days we were away and I took another book to Iceland.

      It was easy to pick up again once I had finished the other book as the book is sort of written as separate stories for part of the book. This is the kind of book I would compare to an average film that you might enjoy at home on TV but would have been annoyed to pay full price at the cinema to watch. It was readable and pleasant but not unforgettable.

      WHAT OTHERS THOUGHT
      "Most of all, Jane Gardam has rendered a convincing and touching insight into the lives of people, still dealing with universal concerns, who are bravely forging a future in an uncertain reality. The characters are rounded and appealing and humour often bubbles beneath the surface." --Christina McLoughlin .

      "A formidably intelligent, gentle, comic genius ... In a hundred years she will be read as Mrs Gaskell is read" -A. N. Wilson SPECTATOR

      "Gardam ... has written another jewel. This tale of the three young women is made with a concentrate of humour and compassion. Gardam is a brilliantly subtle comedian who can keep the reader enraptured until the last page." - THE TIMES

      MY FINAL THOUGHTS
      The novel was well written and had a sense of humour at times. It was in no way laugh out loud but images conjured up through descriptions and sometimes the way characters spoke did sometimes make me smile. It was a gentle English sort of story written in an easy style so a book that didn't offend me nor did it make me want to rush out and buy any further Gardam books. If I see any more in Bookcrossing I will probably pick it up but I wouldn't pay good money for them.

      The novel was well written and had a sense of humour at times. It was in no way laugh out loud but images conjured up through descriptions and sometimes the way characters spoke did sometimes make me smile. It was a gentle English sort of story written in an easy style so a book that didn't offend me nor did it make me want to rush out and buy any further Gardam books. If I see any more in Bookcrossing I will probably pick it up but I wouldn't pay good money for them.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
      ©Catsholiday

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