Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Nina Bawden at the double

Whilst on holiday, I read a number of ebooks published by Bello, who have managed to resurrect some very interesting titles, long unavailable. Two were early works by Nina Bawden, indicative of her strong interest in crime and mystery during her apprenticeship as a novelist.

Of the two, I felt The Solitary Child was the stronger. It has distinct echoes of Rebecca, and whilst it certainly does not rank with the Daphne du Maurier masterpiece, it's sufficiently enjoyable for me to recommend it. A young and rather naive woman has a whirlwind romance with an older man and marries him. However, he has recently been acquitted of murdering his first wife, and suspicion continues to cloud his life. Soon it becomes clear that he has a number of enemies, and his bride begins to doubt his innocence.The story is neatly worked out and, I felt, psychologically plausible.

At that early stage of her writing career, it seems to me, Nina Bawden was sometimes tempted to try to increase mystification by withholding information. This is a device that can work exceptionally well, as Agatha Christie showed so many times, but I'm not sure the young Bawden was especially good at playing tricks on her readers. As a result, I felt Who Calls the Tune was a little frustrating, even though the storyline, about a troubled family in a remote part of Wales, was full of interest and kept me reading the pages. But I wasn't too happy about the ending. Christie did the same thing so much better.

Anyone who is a fan of Bawden ought to give at least one of these books a try, because they contain plenty of good, crisp writing, and some good evocations of life in rural Wales, with which she was obviously very familiar. Children who are, or claim to be, being poisoned, feature in both stories, an odd coincidence. In later life, she wrote more famous books, but these early works show a young writer of real talent and potential, a potential that was happily fulfilled. How splendid that they are now there to entertain a new generation of readers.

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