My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I first came across ‘She Shall Have Music’ during my Masters when I started to collate a list of children’s books featuring gifted and talented characters. It’s a topic that still fascinates me; this balance of the incredibly unique individual with talents far beyond comprehension with the needs and necessity of the form. How do you write difference when, in a way, every book is about difference? (Sweeping, sweeping, let me sweep with such statements).
‘She Shall Have Music’ is an odd, rich little gem. It’s not the easiest to read at parts; some elements have dated quite immensely, there’s a bit of ‘gosh let’s get to the point’ and, in the edition that I got out of the library, somebody had luridly coloured in all of the illustrations. Books of this age (published 1938) and ilk are lived-in titles; reflections of the world we live in and the readers we have been. They reflect what was and not what is and it is hard to judge a text by the standards of one age when it has been written in the standards of another. And so, I acknowledge the difficulties of it whilst letting them be, I read over them and acknowledge my reactions whilst recognising them for what they are.
And it is, in a way, when we slide past these awkward moments and really get going on the story that ‘She Shall Have Music’ begins to play its tune loud and strong. Books featuring gifted and talented characters often have this arc, this long and stiff assemblage of elements and characters and Hurdles To Be Overcome, and you sort of just have to get through it.
When Karen, the central character, starts to discover her talent, we gain some charming and vivid moments and the story begins to get quite confident. It also gets quite pointed too. Barne is clear on what is Good Style and What Is Not. There are some intensely humourous points and Lessons To Be Learnt before Kitty ‘shall have music wherever she goes’. A direct, complex and yet still oddly appealing book. And one with an awesome cast of supporting siblings.