June 15th, 2009

woman's magazine

Comfort Reading: Gwendoline Courtney

A miserable Sunday on the sofa requires comfort reading and I picked Sally’s Family by Gwendoline Courtney. I’d never heard of the author until a few years ago and this book quickly became a favourite. It was first published in 1946 so is very much a post-war book, with housing shortages and rationing. The six motherless Hamilton children have been scattered during the war, each billeted on a very different family; Sally, the eldest, has been in the ATS. Sadly, their father has been killed in the war but before he died he told his friend Charles Selwood of his chief wish: that his children should once again live together as a family and that all should have a good education.

Major Selwood owes his life to Hamilton so he offers a house at low rent to Sally, who arranges for all the children to join her there. Ingleholm turns out to be filthy and ill-furnished. The next-in-age sister, Kitty, has been spoiled by her foster parents and seems unwilling to do any work; the younger ones are fun but a worry because their school fees have to be paid. Sally sometimes despairs of the project but with the help of Charles and his housekeeper succeeds in getting the others to work together to make a cosy home and tame the wild garden. The descriptions of how each room in turn is made comfortable are lovely. As so often in fiction, I find I enjoy the struggling parts of the book best and at the end feel sorry that the family will eventually split up again as each character finds a future.
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