Friday, 26 May 2017

Book Review: No Silver Spoon by Katie Flynn in life comes as a surprise, be it an agreeable or an unpleasant one. Biographies without more or less significant swerves, detours or even sharp turns are rare although we tend to believe that the rich and successful have to overcome less obstacles and can head straight towards their goals. And yet, the way we cope with the vicissitudes of life is just as important as the right focus. As children neither the Irish girl Dympna nor the Liverpudlian boy Jimmy in No Silver Spoon by Katie Flynn could expect to go into the direction that events made them choose, but they both accept the challenge and are determined to make the best of whatever may come. Their paths have crossed and separated already twice before love finally joins them and fate tears them apart again in Liverpool of the 1930s. But what is meant to be, will be.

Katie Flynn was born in Norwich, England, U.K., in 1936. She started writing already as a girl in elementary school, but only after her marriage and move to the North West of the U.K. she went about it more seriously selling short stories and articles to magazines and the radio. Busy with her growing family as well as with the restaurant and catering service that she ran together with her husband, she still kept writing. The 1971 postal strike and a bet finally made her write her first novel. Nearly 100 other novels, many of them bestselling, followed since under pseudonyms like Judith Saxton and as from the 1990s also under the name Katie Flynn. The author’s notable works include The Bright Day is Done (1974), A Family Affair (1989), The Girl from Penny Lane (1993), Liverpool Taffy (1994), Harvest Moon (1995), Still Waters (1996), Rose of Tralee (1998), No Silver Spoon (1999), The Glory (1999), The Girl from Seaforth Sands (2001), The Bad Penny (2002), Harbour Hill (2003), Two Penn’orth of Sky (2004), Darkest Before Dawn (2005), Orphans of the Storm (2006), Polly’s Angel (2007),  A Summer Promise (2015), When Christmas Bells Ring (2015). Katie Flynn lives in the northwestern U.K.

There is No Silver Spoon for Dympna Byrne and Jimmy Ruddock who grow up in a small fishing village on the Western Irish Coast and in Liverpool respectively. Dympna is a tomboy much loved by her Irish father Micheál and unlike both her elder and her younger brothers Nick and Egan harshly treated by her English mother Beatrice.
“From the moment of Dympna’s birth she had blamed the small, dark-haired girl-baby lying in the home-made cradle for binding Beatrice and Micheál Byrne with bands of steel; for making them in truth man and wife. Micheál took it for granted, after Dympna’s birth, that Beatrice was now his wife by choice as well as circumstance, […]”
Although a girl, when she is fourteen Dympna joins her father on the fishing boat  to replace the hired hand who got married. She suggested it herself to allow Nick to study medicine in Dublin, but plans to go to teacher training college as soon as Egan is old enough to take over. However, things take a different turn, when a storm surprises father and daughter wracking the boat – and with it the family’s livelihood. Beatrice turns to her wealthy sister in Liverpool for a loan and agrees to send Dympna to work off the debt as a servant. So at sixteen Dympna arrives in the city where Jimmy Ruddock lives. Behind him lie years of great pains to finish school and stay honest after his mother’s death put him at the mercy of aunt, uncle and cousins. He even had to flee from Liverpool and went to sea for some time because the family tried to frame him after a burglary. Dympna is just about to be promoted from nursery maid to nanny, when she meets Jimmy at a dance… and they fall in love. Alas, on her return home her aunt's grown-up stepson attacks her and leaves her bruised in body and soul.
“[…] She could not bring herself to walk in the street without the protection of her uniform and the big, modern perambulator, and she could not exchange so much as a smile or a look with a man without a terrible sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach.”
Forced to face Jimmy who has dropped by her workplace to find out what’s wrong, she sends him away. Dispirited Jimmy goes back to sea, while Dympna hides away from life attending night school, but neither can forget the other…

Under the title No Silver Spoon unfolds a cleverly channelled love story that – as can be expected – meanders along all kinds of fortunate or troublesome twists and turns towards an only slightly unrealistic happy ending. The book is clearly one written to the taste of the vast community of romance readers, but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s done with skill and originality. Not having read anything else from the pen of Katie Flynn, I can’t tell, though, if all her stories follow the same formula and therefore feel repetitive as is often the case with the works of prolific writers. To my great relief, apart from the love story the novel offers an interesting portrait of working-class Liverpudlian and rural Irish society in a period that I think must be the 1930s. Either I missed the passage where the author specified the setting in time or she purposely left it open. To me all characters making an appearance in the book felt quite authentic and not too clichéd although I can’t credit them with particular psychological depth or exceptionality. Style and language are just as I expect of a genre novel: unpretentious and easy to read.

By and large I’m no fan of the romance genre and so I must admit that I was more than just a bit sceptical when I started reading No Silver Spoon by Katie Flynn. The only reason why I picked it in the first place was that I needed a book with an item of cutlery in the title for Charlie’s What’s In A Name 2017 reading challenge and among non-crime fiction the choice isn’t actually vast. In the end, I was agreeably surprised that it wasn’t as sentimental a novel as I had feared. I even enjoyed it although it certainly didn’t give me much to think about, nor added a lot to my knowledge of English and Irish history between the World Wars. Although I lack experience with the genre, I’d say that the literary quality of this book is higher than that of other bestsellers offering simple entertainment. Thus I recommend it with good conscience.

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This review is a contribution to
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1 comment:

  1. You took a chance on a book and it somewhat rewarded you! I never thought of the difficulty of finding a book with cutlery in the title.


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