Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Lovely Little Love Song

The author of Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home, Michelle Magorian, will be familiar to some already.  I, however, have a soft spot for one of her works which I’ve seen less “buzz” about online, A Little Love Song (Not a Swan in the US).  Those already au fait with Magorian’s works will know she has written a number of novels set within war time Britain and A Little Love Song follows in both Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home’s footsteps in this regard.

To quote the blurb on the back cover:

“At seventeen, Rose is convinced no one will ever love her, living as she does in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Diana.  If Diana is the swan, Rose is the ugly duckling.  But for both girls this is going to be an extraordinary summer.

It is 1943 and the war has left its mark even in the sleepy seaside town where the girls have been sent out of harm’s way.  For the first time in their lives they are free of adult restriction.

For both girls it is a summer of self-discovery, but especially for Rose who unearths a love story set in another war, a story that becomes more real when she falls in love herself…” 

A Little Love Song is one of my re-reads – the books I “revisit” every once in a while, to re-experience the pleasure of reading again.  It’s also perhaps my favourite Michelle Magorian work to date.  Whilst Magorian revisits familiar territory in terms of the setting for her narrative with the war time theme, there are a number of respects in which this novel differs from those which precede it.  Rose is noticeably older than either of the main protagonists to whom we have previously been introduced, William Beech or “Rusty” Virginia Dickinson in Good Night Mister Tom or Back Home respectively at seventeen.  Consequentially, the reader is introduced to altogether new emotional territory.  Nor is Magorian reticent to delve into these depths. 

Through Derry, the local bookshop owner’s teenage cousin, Rose takes her first faltering steps towards a relationship and we see this rebound as she is tricked into a sexual relationship and her emotions are played upon, with Derry referring on a number of occasions to the fact that he is go off to war from which he might not return.  Away from parental supervision, Rose also finds herself associating with an unmarried mother to be, Dot, who was unable to marry her boyfriend, Jack, due to her father’s having withheld his consent.

Balanced neatly with these aspects of the narrative arc, Rose discovers the events which preceded it within the village of Salmouth and particularly those affecting Lapwing Cottage, the residence both she and her sister, Diana are renting and which had previously belonged to the locally infamous “Mad Hilda”.  Having discovered “Mad” Hilda’s diary and a letter which appears to encourage the reader to review the diary’s contents, Rose begins to appreciate that matters are not always as simplistic as they may at first appear and, indeed, that “Mad” Hilda may not in fact have been mad at all…  A moment of self-realisation confirms that, ultimately, it is “Mad” Hilda’s diary which prevents her from disassociating herself from Dot and allowing their friendship to develop and another, equally important, relationship to grow.  Furthermore, “Mad” Hilda’s diary takes on even greater significance once Rose realises it holds more than just the secret of Hilda’s sanity and has particular significance for someone with whom she is acquainted in the present.

Rose begins the narrative as an inexperienced and relatively naïve teenager who has never had to fend for herself.  By its conclusion, she has taken on employment and action to involve herself actively in the war effort.  Furthermore, she has developed the confidence to begin to write and she is engaged in a genuine, adult relationship.  Ultimately, the mistakes she makes along the way make this journey all the more credible.  Not only that, but the self-sworn “ugly duckling” has become a more self-assured and “darling” goose to her love and we, the reader, are happy for her for it.  Ultimately, happy does not have to mean absolute perfection – it simply means becoming self-aware and comfortable within our own skin; a pretty positive message to end Rose’s journey with - and ours with her.       

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