Until We Win by Linda Newbery

Until We Win

Until We Win by Linda Newbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Until We Win by Linda Newbery is a slender, accessible novella touching upon a key point in suffragette history. It’s framed through the perspective of Lizzy, an everygirl who comes across the work of the suffragettes and becomes a passionate supporter of the cause. Believing in Deeds Not Words, she undertakes action until she – like her sisters – is imprisoned. The backdrop to all of this is the build up to World War One, and there’s a little introduction and prologue delivered retrospectively by Lizzy where she looks back and talks abut the Summer that was and the years that followed.

Barrington Stoke deliver, in their words, ‘super readable’ texts and this is a worthy addition to their list. It’s deeply accessible, both through format and style, and there’s a lot to give somebody here. It’s perfectly pitched for those who may feel unable or intimidate by thicker, heavier books and could work as a nice lead-in and confidence booster. I also enjoyed the note from Stewart Easton which explained his reasoning behind the cover design. This sort of thing is so important because it tells you who’s ‘behind’ the book, as it were, but also encourages readers to question and think about the book as a whole. It’s never just about the words on the page.

I was impressed at how much Newbery packs into this. I have such a lot of time for her as a writer, and love what she does. I found some of the beats she touches here a little familiar and thus not as startling as they could be, but if you’re new to the topic then that may slide you by. I’m also going to take this moment to suggest that you head towards Newbery’s kind of remarkable back catalogue. Here’s a few I’ve reviewed.

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Catcall : Linda Newbery

Cover of "Catcall"

Cover of Catcall

by Linda Newbery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a Linda Newbery kick recently, and have come to a bit of a conclusion. I think I mark her quite severely when I review her, and I think that’s for one reason. Because sometimes when people are really good, and they make you think twice about the written word and how things come together, they need to be marked on a slightly different scale because that’s where they are. So when I tell you that this has got five stars, it’s really, really got five stars. Hard-earned, hard won. And it’s a sort of five stars that, to be honest, I wouldn’t give to that many other books.

In Catcall, Josh and his younger brother Jamie are part of a family that is experiencing many changes. Their parents have separated, their mother and her new partner have just had a baby girl, and their father is making home with his new partner, and her teenage son. It is a family in flux, and it is a flux that is not due to settle down any time soon.

One day, Josh and Jamie are taken to Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s there that they meet the lion. It’s a meeting that sticks with them both and changes things forever. Soon Jamie isn’t talking, and then when he does start talking, he’s adopted the identity of ‘Leo’. It’s up to Josh to figure out what’s going on and bring his little brother back.

This is a quietly intense book, as many of Newbery’s seem to be, and it deals with matters of family, of identity and finding your place in the world. It’s a deeply astute and full of a sort of chillingly precise yet incredibly sympathetic psychological analysis. Catcall is the portrait of two boys, and their family, trying to figure out how things work now. And it’s in the portrayal of the two boys, Jamie in particular, that Catcall impresses. The lion affects Jamie in a more obvious manner but Josh is struggling too – and it’s through saving Jamie that Josh is able to save himself.

Sometimes when a book punches out of the page at you, it’s churlish – foolish – to try and ignore it. Catcall is one of those books that makes you want to go up to a stranger int the street, wave it in their face and go, “LOOK, LOOK, CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IS DOING MASSIVE THINGS AND YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO IT.”

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The Treasure House : Linda Newbery

The Treasure HouseThe Treasure House by Linda Newbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Newbery with her books Polly’s March and Andie’s Moon which are part of the awfully underrated Historical House series. She’s an author I return to regularly because of how big she writes. Every book I’ve read of hers so far has very quietly addressed some massive, massive topics. And The Treasure House is no exception. It’s one of the biggest little books I’ve read for a long time.

Nina’s mother has disappeared, just as she’s starting senior school. And when possessions of her mother’s start to appear in the charity shop run by Nina’s Aunts, it’s up to Nina to figure out just where her mother has gone.

In a way, this book is defined by absence and space and loss. It’s about how Nina has to cope with one of the greatest changes of her life without one, and then both, parents. It’s hard to not engage with Nina, she’s a gorgeous lead, full of pain and happiness and glee all at the right points. And it’s also particularly appealing (and a little heart-aching) how she handles things at school during her rocky first days.

The Treasure House is a very quiet, nuanced book with a whole world of subtle magic to it. Finishing it produced one of the most contented feelings I’ve had in a while.

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Set in Stone : Linda Newbery

Set in StoneSet in Stone by Linda Newbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Stone is a big book. Astutely written with a fine eye for period detail (it’s set on the edge of the twentieth century), it’s a complex and exhausting page turner full of emotion, turmoil and psychological revelations.

Written very much in a style reminiscent of Wilkie Collins, it is the tale of Samuel Godwin, an artist on his way to accept a new position. He is to be the tutor to Juliana and Marianne, daughters of a wealthy man, Ernest Farrow, and live with the family in their fine home Fourwinds.

Fourwinds holds secrets. It’s not long until Samuel finds himself obsessed with figuring out what they may be. This journey of discovery is joined by the governess to the sisters, Charlotte, who is also resident at Fourwinds and also has secrets of her own.

This is a very big book. The scope of what it covers is huge and it reminded me a lot of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. There’s a similarly high sense of melodrama, gothic horror and psychologically devastating revelations throughout both texts.

Set In Stone is full of secrets. Dense, twisting, life-wrecking secrets and many of these are of a very adult nature. It’s complicated and occasionally hard to read if you’re not familiar with this style (I struggled at points and needed to reread a few sections in order to catch up).

Ultimately Set In Stone is one of those books that it’s very hard to tear yourself away from. You’re left with the strange, near-voyeuristic, sensation that it wasn’t just Charlotte and Samuel who grew obsessed with discovering the secrets held in this family and building, it was you as well. It’s a curious and discomforting way to finish a book and one, that I think, is a mark of its dark allure.

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The Shouting Wind : Linda Newbery

The Shouting WindThe Shouting Wind by Linda Newbery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up The Shouting Wind primarily due to the strapline on the front: “Three lives, three times, three heroines who dare to be different”. It’s the first of a trilogy concerning the lives of a grandmother, mother, and daughter in the same family and is followed by The Cliff Path and A Fear Of Heights The idea of a female-centred, multi-generational family story is something that really very much appeals to me.

I have a lot of love for Linda Newbery. She’s a superb writer; Polly’s March for example is genuinely one of the best historical YA books I’ve read for a long while and the same goes for Some Other War. Newbery has a freshness and a sensitivity to her work that can be outstanding.

And yet, for some reason, The Shouting Wind did not really work for me. I actually think Newbery’s written better books that deal with similar thematic elements and a similar historical time period (see the previous two titles mentioned). The Shouting Wind (something about that title does not sit right for me) is the story of Kay, who joins the WAAF during WW2. There’s some very solid detail and historical colour here which is handled well, and I really liked the details of base life. Newbery is gifted at mixing the banal with the bloody without slipping into bathos.

The Shouting Wind is a solid, readable book with likeable characters and an emotional core. I wonder though whether the impact of this book is more negated through acting as an introduction to a trilogy rather than a stand alone text. There’s a self-awareness here of structure, and I imagine this may get paid off in the next two novels. For now though, The Shouting Wind has a rather disappointingly brief impact.

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