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  • Writer's pictureIan Ayris

THE BELOVED CHILDREN by Tina Jackson - a review


THE BLURB

Three young women; Chrysanthemum, Rose & Orage are thrown together performing as The Three Graces on the stage of Fankes’ Theatre during the closing days of the Second World War. It’s there they come under the spell of wardrobe mistresses Dolores and Janna – a chance encounter that will guide and change all of their fates forever. Set in the dying days of vaudeville theatre and laced with mysticism, fortune tellers, ghosts, and evocative descriptions of the closing days of the War - The Beloved Children will literally make you laugh out loud and perhaps even shed the odd tear.

Note: the photo above is from the original cover. A new, even better one now graces this book

THE OPENING

TAKE YOUR SEATS PLEASE. AND AS YOU WAIT FOR THE SHOW TO START, CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE MYSTERIES THAT WILL UNFOLD BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES


Miss Maud's hand slices through the air above her head. A pair of flies drop to the table. They join a debris of scraps of skin and fur, small bones, hair, thread and the remnants of a hot water bottle. As if briefly mourning the loss of two of their number, the mass of bluebottles surrounding Maud's black bonnet pause in flight, silently hovering, before the interminable buzzing begins again.


THE REVIEW

This story begins with two of The Three Graces, now elderly ladies, meeting up after decades apart.


The Beloved Children is a reminiscence of their younger years, days of friendship and theatre, loss and love. And far, far more. More than any one review can encompass


It is all there in those opening lines:


TAKE YOUR SEATS PLEASE. AND AS YOU WAIT FOR THE SHOW TO START, CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE MYSTERIES THAT WILL UNFOLD BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES


It is a show, yes. And oh, what a show. But the entire show is merely a glimpse of mysteries, an unfolding glimpse, much of which is never fully revealed.


The story itself is a wonderful evocation of a time and a place, of humanity, sacrifice and friendship. But there is also pain. And there is darkness.


At the centre of the story is a samovar - one of those huge Russian water containers used for boiling water. The samovar is both magical and symbolic, the steam it produces another layer through which the reader has to peer, and is the fulcrum around which the incredibly splendid cast of characters revolve. It both links them and hides them. It is the keeper of secrets and the repository of truth.


So how does Jackson achieve these glimpses, this unfolding, these multiple layers? Look at this line from very early in the book, when two of The Graces meet:


'Hello stranger,' Rose smiles, and sixty years fall away.'


That present tense. The whole book is written in it. A brave thing for a writer to do, and a choice which very rarely works - especially through the course of an entire book. But the choice here is inspired. The present tense is fleeting. As soon as it is written it is gone, disappearing into the past, taking its secrets with it, slipping through the fingers like the steam from the samovar.


And like the steam from the samovar, this book cannot be contained. I think I could read ita dozen times over, and still not see it all.


The Beloved Children is a reading experience the like of which I have never known and is available in several formats direct from Fahrenheit press:


Paperback


Harback


Kindle


ePub


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