A Vicarage Family is the first part of Noel Streafeild's autobiography. She says that she has changed the names, because it is only the truth as she remembers it, and acknowledges that it may not be the truth as it actually was. It follows the Strangeway family - the father is a vicar, and the novel documents the childhood of the Strangeway children, Isabel, Victoria (Noel), Louise, Dick, and their cousin, John.
I really enjoyed the novel. I've enjoyed all of Streatfeild's work, so far, but I liked this on a different level. Victoria is instantly recognisable as the awkward middle child, who just doesn't seem to be able to get anything right, and whose attitude and problems with authority are constantly causing her to get into trouble. In her, I can see where Streatfeild got the ability to create such characters as Jane Winter (one of my favourites..) in The Painted Garden : children who feel untalented and unloved, and so become products of an environment where their siblings are constantly favoured and prioritised above them.
The book had all of her usual charm and comfortable feeling about it, but it was much more gritty than I'm used to - for the first time, the First World War actually left its mark on the book, rather than just passing over or around it. Even books like When the Siren Wailed, which is ostensibly about the war, didn't really feel like they engaged with it as much as this novel did, and for me, that took it to a completely different level.
Having read this, I'm starting to see similarities to different parts of all her other novels, and maybe it's the authentic touch of reality which is what I love about Streatfeild. Her books often feel like my own childhood. The book was published in 1963, well after the success of Ballet Shoes, etc, so in some ways I suppose it can be seen as a kind of explanation of her children's books.
I'm starting to think the first book I read when embarking on this challenge, should have been a biography of Streafeild. When I was at university,a few professors used to tell us that for every new author we read, we should read a biography, as understanding the author's life experiences and their historical period, often helps to better understand their work. I really wish I had enough hours in the day to be able to fit in reading a biography of every author I read, especially the ones I love, but realisitically, given my huuuuuuuge TBR pile, plus the fact that I do have a job, and a life outside of reading a blogging (ish, anyway!), a house to clean, and friends who expect me to at least vaguely keep in touch with them, it's not going to happen. So, for the moment at least, I'm stuck with reading author bio's on Goodreads and Wikipedia, and from the introductions in books. Reading A Vicarage Family helped give me at least a little bit of insight into Noel Streatfeild, and what caused her to write in the way that she did. I am planning to read the other 2 installments of her autobiography, as and when the library get them in for me, and I'm also planning to read a biography, just to see if somebody else's view of her life even slightly tallies up with her own!
(I've decided I give out too many 5 star ratings, so I'm stopping. Unless they actually are earth-stoppingly good. This was great, but the earth kept turning....)