Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Book Review: The Children's Hour by Marcia Willett

Before I begin, I should point out that I have read the 2007 German paperback edition of Willett's 'The Children's Hour', titled 'Das Spiel der Wellen'. The book turned up in my kitchen after it was cleared out by one of my neighbours. He left it with me, since I am the only German speaker in the neighbourhood.

Marcia Willett - The Children's Hour, 2007 German paperback edition titled 'Das Spiel der Wellen'

I was not overly keen to start reading The Children's Hour, and so the book lingered on my kitchen shelf together with the other titles he dropped off that day. I picked it up six months ago, finished other books in-between and eventually completed it last Thursday. The time it's taken me to get through this novel (333 pages), suggests that this was a less than gripping read for me. 

The story takes place in the British countryside in the late 1990s / early 2000s but covers a period of roughly 65 years from the late 1930s onwards. At the centre of the novel are sisters Mina and Nest, who share their family home in Ottercombe. A visit by their older sister Georgia, who suffers from dementia, not only prompts Mina and Nest to reminisce about the past, but also to confront deeply buried family secrets and to deal with a host of issues affecting them and their niece Lyddie.

Considering the overall length of the book, the vast number of characters and the time span covered, Willett attempts to cram an awful lot into a rather tight space. The characters and issues she explores (dementia, disability, infidelity and adoption) remain by and large on the surface. As a result of the constant flashbacks the story lacks an overarching plot line, which would have provided Willett's narrative with a sense of direction. The incorporation of surprising twists and turns right at the end felt - like other parts of the book - contrived, rushed and engineered.

Willett is often compared to author Rosamunde Pilcher. Not having read anything by Pilcher, The Children's Hour nevertheless reminded me of the ubiquotous Pilcher  adaptations on German TV. Set against the backdrop of picturesque English countryside and populated with bland, middle class characters, Willett's book appears to be as formulaic as the Pilcher adaptations. My copy will be handed in at the nearest charity shop. One to be missed. 
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