Book Reviews

A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson

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List Price: £16.99

 

Hardcover: 336 Pages.

Published: 24 March 2016 by Chatto & Windus

ISBN: 0701189304

EAN: 9780701189303

As read on BBC Radio 4. All families have their myths and legends. For many years Juliet Nicolson accepted hers - the dangerous beauty of her flamenco dancing great-great-grandmother Pepita, the flirty manipulation of her great-grandmother Victoria, the infamous eccentricity of her grandmother Vita, her mother's Tory-conventional background. But then Juliet, a renowned historian, started to question. As she did so, she sifted fact from fiction, uncovering details and secrets long held just out of sight. A House Full of Daughters takes us through seven generations of women. In the nineteenth-century slums of Malaga, the salons of fin-de-siecle Washington DC, an English boarding school during the Second World War, Chelsea in the 1960s, the knife-edge that was New York City in the 1980s, these women emerge for Juliet as people in their own right, but also as part of who she is and where she has come from. A House Full of Daughters is one woman's investigation into the nature of family, memory, the past - and, above all, love. It brings with it messages of truth and hope for us all.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Debra Found

A Light Surface Skimming

This book is basically biographical & autobiographical following the women in Juliet Nicholson's family. We have some insight into the lives of Juliet, her daughters and grand-daughter, her mother Philippa, her grand-mother Vita Sackville-West, her great grandmother Victoria Sackville-West and her great, great grandmother Pepita who was a spanish flamenco dancer.

This book grazed the surface of the the lives of these people. This is really only a whistle-stop tour looking at these women's lives, their relationships with their husbands and children and their many faults. These women are fairly disfunctional and it is easy to see where the women copy the mistakes made by former generations. This is not a family that knows how to nurture its children and we read of abandonment, both temporaily and permanently, and alcoholism. This is quite a sad book in many ways as you can see how these women set out to be better than the previous generation only to spiral into a life of unhappiness, affairs and poor relationships. There are nice moments and memories but they are rather overshadowed by the amount of unhappiness.

On the whole I found this book interesting. There is quite a bit of social background and it is clear to see how some of the problems were compounded by the restraits of society at the time. Pepita was the mistress of Lionel Sackville-West and her children were illegitimate. They were shunned by many within society and the church creating a very isolated and lonely life for Pepita and her children. Vita Sackville-West was caught in a society whenre women were supposed to be married and have children rather than affairs with other women and careers.

As the author is related to all of the people she is writing about I had expected the book to contain many personal insights with snippets from diaries and letters. The author mentions on several occasions how compulsive the women were in writing letters and diaries. She talks about the filing cabinets full of these at Sissinghurst. I am sure the author used these for her own research but I felt that the book would have been enhanced by snippets and quotes from these documents.

The chapters on Vita Sackville-West are really just a rehash and severely edited form of what is already available to the public. There are plenty of books about her, including those written by other family members and close friends. There was little that was fresh in these chapters. It is a shame that the author couldn't provide some new insight.

I did enjoy this book and found it easy to read. The writing flowed well and the subject matter was interesting if not particularly in depth. I couldn't help comparing this book to Margaret Forster's "Hidden Lives" where she looks at the lives of her mother and grandmother. Margaret Forster's were much more ordinary that Juliet Nicholson's and she went into more depth about their lives.

 
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