Salt Blue by Gillian Morgan
|Salt Blue by Gillian Morgan|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: A gentle story set in the 1950’s. Stella’s quiet life as an accounts clerk in a Welsh village jolts into life-changing activity when she is given £500 and decides to blue it on a trip to America.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 256||Date: April 2010|
|Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press|
I always judge a book by its cover. The eyes in the pretty face on the cover of Salt Blue are arresting, but difficult to assign to a period, though it’s clearly women’s or teen fiction. I imagine that the cover might attract fiction readers of mainstream women’s magazines such as Women’s Weekly or Woman’s Own, so it’s spot on for the story inside.
It turns out that Stella is a young woman who lives with her aunt Oona, a midwife, in a small Welsh village in the 1950’s. By day she works at a timber yard as the accounts clerk, but in her spare time her knitting needles clack furiously as she indulges her love of bright colours. Colour is important to Stella, as is dressing up in smart clothes when she goes out. In the early part of the book Stella has a few dates with a pleasant farmer, who has evidently fallen in love with her. In spite of some enjoyable sexual experimentation, Stella realizes that she isn’t ready to tie herself down. When a large cheque unexpectedly drops into her lap, Stella decides to leave her safe job in search of adventure. In short order, she arrives in New York and accepts the invitation of a fellow airline passenger to stay in her Sayville home. Stella is now ready to make the most of her opportunities. An admirable opening presents itself and surprise, surprise a man as well!
This is not a book in which much of consequence happens. The first half is an account of daily life, and the heroine doesn’t grapple with any big issues, unless you count a ‘Save our Hospital’ campaign as life-changing. Now I enjoy a heroine who is up against a problem she can sink her teeth into, so I’m afraid the sense of drifting through life central to this book isn’t to my taste. Of course, it may equally be said that a gentle growing-up story validates ordinary experience as being worthy of record, or as Dr Johnson put it: nothing can please as much or as long as the just representation of general nature.
I did think, again from the cover, that it might be slightly erotic, but the mention of tangible sensual pleasures is a little disingenuous as it’s a far from raunchy read: I gather now this is a reference to Stella’s love affair with vibrant colours.
Stella and I haven’t really clicked. For my taste she is too grown up and perfect for a twenty year old, and I’ve not yet found her core. For example, I liked Connor, the boyfriend who worships the ground Stella walks on, and their sexual chemistry is working. So I didn’t understand why she rejects him, and as a result, lost sympathy with her.
Gillian Morgan has put an admirable amount of spadework into background research on the Fifties, to add authentic touches to her descriptions and dialogue. It’s quite fun to be reminded of so many household names from the period and this recognition game will surely appeal to other older readers. The author also understands the importance of little sensory details to light up the prose. Occasionally I felt as if I was tripping over the multifarious topical references and observations; at times they come over as irrelevant or stilted, rather than adding to the portrayal of the characters or their world as they should. I suppose minimalism is a matter of taste in books as in architecture, but I do admire books where the writing appears pared down and effortless, and this latter is probably the most elusive skill of all for a new writer to develop. When you’re trying your hardest, it certainly doesn’t help when people like me suggest a more relaxed attitude to writing, followed by more rigorous editing afterwards!
Honno Welsh Women’s Press is an interesting cooperative whose mission is to provide publishing opportunities, particularly for new writers. Books don’t necessarily fit an imprint format, which makes them interesting to review, so I’d like to thank Honno for sending this book.
Suggestions for further reading:
My girlie book of the moment is the wonderful The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan, set in another Welsh village a handful of years later. For a male viewpoint character around the same period, I’d recommend William Bedford’s None of the Cadillacs was Pink. And don’t forget the Honno website, which details other interesting titles such as Cut on the Bias (short stories edited by Stephanie Tillotson) and the delightful Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons by Lorraine Jenkin.
You can read more book reviews or buy Salt Blue by Gillian Morgan at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Salt Blue by Gillian Morgan at Amazon.com.
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