Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is something rather lovely about Streatfeild’s England. Every village has a family full of a thousand siblings. There are sensible and yet approachable adult folk. There is always a girl who is earnestly in love with ballet who ends up being recruited to train with the local (there is always one present) ballet teacher who just happens to spot purposeful talent in the girl. There is sunshine. There are sibling dynamics full of love and fun and heart. There is loveliness. (If you would like a game for this review, you can count up how many times I say things are lovely…)
Selina in Party Shoes has received a frock. The problem is that as it’s wartime, the opportunities for her to wear this frock are very limited. To be frank, it’s not going to happen and so the cousins with whom Selina is lodging (due to her parents being abroad), put their head together to make a plan. And that plan is this. They will hold a pageant in the grounds of the local Abbey and that Selina will be able to wear her frock at that.
It’s a lovely and ridiculous book this, and it’s easy to think that it’s solely ridiculous with the benefit of reading this in todays age. The plot itself is glorious; we’ll hold a pageant, here’s how we plan the pageant, whoops here’s the pageant, all’s good, bye. And to be frank there are moments of planning which drag a little only to be resolved in that blithe booky fashion which never seems to happen in real life.
That’s one way of reading it, but I’d argue that there’s another. The thing is this plot comes from real life. Not the pageant-y part of it, but the aching need to wear a dress at the right occasion before one grows out of it. Streatfeild’s niece, Nicolette, received a dress during the war and the occasion never presented itself for the dress to be worn. As Streatfeild explains during the introduction to my edition, everyone began to wonder would the occasion ever present itself and if it did would it be too late? Would Nicolette have grown too much and would the dress fit?
Now, the inability to do something in an everyday context is annoying and troublesome as it is, but the inability to do something as simple as have an occasion fit for a pretty dress in the middle of wartime must have been something else. And there’s something lovely, heartbreaking and beautiful about the way the entire community bands together to achieve this, even if they almost forget what they’re doing it for in the process, even if they’re almost banding together to create something beautiful and positive and a memory to hold against all the sadness and trauma that they have lived through.
So yes, Party Shoes (also known as Party Frock) is ridiculous.
But it’s also something very much more than that.
10 thoughts on “Party Shoes (Party Frock) : Noel Streatfeild”
I’ve never run across this one, and I read all of the Streatfield my library had, growing up.
It was a new one to me too – a lucky charity shop find 🙂
I am DEFINITELY going to get this!
I was so excited when, aged thirteen, I was given a copy of this in a box of books. I remember being so disappointed with it at the time, but liking it more on a later reread. The characters didn’t seem to have the well roundedness of the families in New Town or Caldicote Place, but do have their own appeal.
I don’t think I’ve ever read New Town. I must hunt it out.
I think nice things, whether an event or a dress – or chocolate, or a lipstick – were so few and far between in those days, in the war but also before and for a while after (rationing of some things, including sweets, went of for years afterwards) that it’s hard for us to comprehend this in days of plenty to buy and higher disposable income. But good to realise. Remember of the audition dress in Ballet Shoes? It also makes me think of the books for adults by Barbara Pym, often set in and around the war: the meals in them are so meager and grim – an egg or a chop, with a single tomato on the side! So creating something lovely and memorable was really worthwhile. And sometimes lovely is the only word!
Oh I am getting all of the interesting sounding recs at the moment – I must read a Barbara Pym. Thanks!
Could you please post a summary of chapter 11-15
Hi Laura, I’m afraid not, my copy of Party Shoes is back at the library now. Sorry!