Thursday’s Children is about the Penny family. Mother concentrates all her hopes on Crystal, the fifth child and longer-for girl after four boys. Crystal is to be a ballet dancer, groomed by her mother who was once a chorus girl and longs to see her former dreams realised through her only daughter. Doone, sixth child and clearly an “accident”, has to accompany his sister to ballet class when there is no one to watch over him at home. There, he secretly becomes fascinated by dancing, and he starts practising in the hallway so that no one will see him. Doone has his reasons to keep his dancing a secret. His mother would not understand, focused as her attention is on Crystal, who is her one and all. His father thinks dancing is not suitable for boys. And his brothers never really seem to bother much about him. Nevertheless, Doone is willing to do everything he can to become a ballet dancer.
As many of you predicted in the comments of my library loot post, I really really enjoyed Thursday’s Children. What’s not to love? There’s ballet! And a child overcoming obstacles! There’s heartfelt writing! And social commentary! Basically, I wanted to travel back in time while reading this, and push the book into the hands of my childhood self. The hours I spent dreaming of being a professional dancer back then! The hours I spent dancing in the living room, the bedroom, on the street while walking somewhere, even on my bike.. Godden does a really good job at capturing the fascination for music and movements, the emotions it can evoke, and all the romantic feelings associated with dance. But she also highlights the difficult aspects of pursuing a career in dance: the rivalry and ugliness between children and parents that are all part of this world as well.
However, if you do not care much for ballet yourself, I think this book might still be of interest. The thing is, it really is about pursuing the things you love, the sacrifices you have to make in the process, but also the importance of love and family relations.
I was reminded of Eva Ibbotson when I read Thursday’s Children, although perhaps they are not that much alike. Like Ibbotson, Godden highlights the ugliness of classicism through the interactions of, particularly mother and Crystal with other girls in class. Perhaps more than Ibbotson, Godden portrays extremes of hurt and ugliness, particularly towards the end of Crystal’s storyline. And in Doone’s portrayal, the sympathy evoked for him, and the overall sympathetic outlook on the world, she occasionally seems to share Ibbotson’s rose-coloured glasses. I somehow feel I am being unfair to both authors by comparing their work, because I think the strength of their writing is that it is so recognisable and individual. I guess what I meant to say is that I felt the same warmth and feeling radiate from Thursday’s Children as I do in Ibbotson’s novels.
Most of all, I think Godden shines in portraying the family interactions between the Pennys. It is hurtful and difficult to read about the treatment of Doone sometimes. Godden walks a fine line between invoking stereotypes of parents pursuing their own hopes and dreams through their children and forgetting about the other children in the family. However, she manages to remain realistic, I think, and handles these storylines really well. Even more so because, especially towards the end, she manages to complicate them: she shows both the hurt and the love that is part of so many families, she shows how every family member might stand up for other things, fight for some while forgetting about others, and how in their effort to do right all of them make mistakes.
Colour me impressed. And a little regretful that I did not discover Rumer Godden earlier. So.. which book should I read next?
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