Tuesday 8 December 2015

A Daughter's Tale

After a lapse of several months during the summer and early autumn I seem to be back on course with my non-fiction reading. The latest offering is A Daughter's Tale by Mary Soames.

Mary Soames (née Spencer-Churchill) was the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill, born about a year after the death of their fourth child, Marigold. One of her abiding wishes throughout her life was that her birth had been some consolation to them in their loss. Hers was a priviledged upbringing naturally. The Churchills were connected to the dukes of Marlborough and although the family constantly had money problems they still lived the life of the upper class, high profile politician's family.

Mary had what can only be described as an idyllic childhood. A nanny who was a cousin of the family looked after her throughout her childhood so no nasty stories there and she was happy at her private school, loved by her family etc. One of the things that shines out of the book in fact, is what devoted parents Winston and Clementine were. They clearly adored all their children, made sure they spent time with them, wrote to them constantly when they were apart. I haven't read a massive amount about Winston Churchill's childhood (I plan to correct that at some stage) but what I have read indicates it wasn't hugely happy so I wonder if this closeness to his own children was a reaction to that...

Anyway, about two thirds of the book deals with the war years (WW2), what Mary did to serve her country and the trials and tribulations of her father's leadership of the country: being especially close to her father these affected her deeply. She was one of the first women to serve in the mixed anti-aircraft batteries and rose to the rank of Junior Commander. Being a bit cynical, I have to admit I wondered if it helped that she was Churchill's daughter but still, if she was a real dud I don't think she would have managed it. Plus some of the hoo-ha she attracted did genuinely seem to mortify her, so it's swings and roundabouts with this kind of thing. I suspect whatever she did she couldn't really win, poor woman.

All of this was fascinating. What did get a little tedious was all the relating of parties and lunches with Naice Gels with double-barrelled surnames, whose names would mean nothing to most people. And because of who she was I don't think she suffered as most ordinary people suffered during the war... she never mentions rationing for instance. Although she did lose close friends and worried endlessly about her father, so perhaps I'm being a trifle unfair.

I suppose I'm slightly ambiguous about this book. On the one hand it was very interesting historically... although at times I wanted *more*. More about the people she met... Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Joseph Stalin and so on. More about the nitty-gritty of the war. But part of me felt slightly uneasy at this very priviledged girl's easy passage through life because of the family she was born into. How nice it would be if it was as easy for everyone.

Still, this was not a bad read. Mary Soame's writing style is very readable so no getting bogged down in the narrative. There was plenty to keep my interest and I especially enjoyed reading about Winston Churchill, the family man. The author died last year aged 92 and this was her last book, published in 2011, quite an achievement to write such a book in your late eighties! She also wrote a book about her mother, Clementine, which I think might bear reading at some stage. I seem to have discovered yet another reading theme...



DesLily said...

It's so strange how we can read a lot of mystery and suddenly change to history and then back again to other books.. I lost a little interest in spots of the Churchill book I read also but always "overall" I've liked all the "history" books I've read.

Penny O'Neill said...

A well rounded review, Cath. I'm alway interested in the Churchills and think I would enjoy this.

Nan said...

A few years ago I saw Chartwell with Mary Soames telling about her father. It was quite wonderful. I was quite taken with MS. Over here we can see it on amazon with a prime membership.

Peggy Ann said...

The book on Clementine would definitely be interesting! Fascinating time in history.

Val said...

Interesting review Cath ..I'll have to give it a read.
Churchill was such a skilled writer it's easy to underestimate how intensely painstaking he was, and how aware of the effect of every word..what he didn't want to tell you was not there.
It sounds like his daughter was recording her memories rather than trying to present a specific picture...so we get more of a picture of her life unedited.
So the fact that she was a "Toff" is not hidden ..it's my Mother's voice and term.. I can hear her saying that in my head as I type...my Mother grew up in a Rural World where there was a 'Lord of the Manor'... Toff's and the rest of us...I never picked up personal resentment from her ..it was just how it was...although resentment of the status quo was there ..the Game Keeper's son gained a place in Grammar school but was forced to leave when his father died suddenly ..The Squire gave him a job and his family kept their cottage and to the Squire this was a gift and a kindness ..allowing the Lad to take care of his family ...but as an Old man I heard him talk of it and the desperate disappointment of what might have been ..you could hear it in his voice...

Cath said...

Pat: I know, wierd isn't it? I think we can pat ourselves on the back for being flexible. LOL!

Penny: It was certainly a very readable book, and interesting to read about WC from such a different point of view,

Nan: I had no idea such a documentary was available. I'll look into it. One day I hope to actually go there.

Peggy: I think the book about Clementine would be interesting, she went on some amazing world travels.

Val: I think you mind find it worth a look. I need to remind myself that this was not a book about Churchill, but about his *daughter* and her life. No, she didn't try to hide her 'toffness' and why should she... she knew no other way and no one tended to be critical in those days. Things were what they were.

A similar sort of thing happened to my father. He got a place at Grammar school too, back in the 30s, and his parents could not afford to let him go nor really wanted him to. There was a certain attitude of knowing your place back then and some were not keen to let even their children get above themselves. He was quite bitter about it for the rest of his life. A very interesting subject.