Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

Jalna cover

I don’t know what it was that got me thinking about this author and her Jalna series recently, as I mentioned before they were in the public library which I used to work in but even then (1970s) they were regarded as ‘old hat’. I have to admit that I’m a bit snooty when it comes to some books, well quite a lot of books actually, and I think I looked down my nose at poor old Mazo de la Roche because there were so many of the books, it looked like they’d just been churned out.

Anyway, I haven’t seen anyone else mentioning this author so I thought I would give her a go as part of the C P R Book Group. It was first published in 1927 and Jalna is the first in the Whiteoak series, it was an instant best seller. The American magazine Atlantic Monthly awarded Mazo $10,000 for Jalna, a huge amount of money in 1927. The first of any sort of series must be the awkward one because it’s necessary for the writer to do a lot of scene setting and and basically info dumping so there’s always going to be a certain amount of clunkiness in that process, but I still found Jalna to be an interesting and entertaining read.

It’s set in Canada where Adeline and Captain Philip Whiteoak have moved to after their marriage in Bombay where Philip had been in the British Army. At the beginning of the book Adeline is 99, her husband is long dead as are the mothers of her grandchildren and they are all living together along with Adeline’s two surviving sons on the family estate which is called Jalna. Gran Adeline is a domineering but amusing character. Her pet parrot, which of course perches on her shoulder, also swears fluently in Hindi, which I wish I knew!

It’s a lot to keep straight to begin with, there are so many male characters but as with all good family sagas there’s a family tree at the beginning. My heart did sink a wee bit at first because chapter 1 is all about the 8 year old Wakefield Whiteoak who is supposed to be a loveable rogue I think. In reality I would never have tired of giving him a good skelp – how un-PC of me! But the story soon moves on to all the other family members and their lives.

Well I found myself caught up by all the various characters and I’m happy that I managed to buy the second book in the series the other day. I got the first one from my local library.

It isn’t what you would call high brow literature, more of a comfort read really and that’s exactly the job that this series did, especially during the time of World War II when real families were scattered all over the world by the conflict. There are 16 books in the series and I think I’ll work my way through them all eventually.

This is a book which I read as part of the C P R Book Group Ceilidh and although I enjoyed it I’m giving it a tentative HEE-YOOCH (remember this is just a bit of fun, nobody else has to hee-yooch or black spot!) which would probably translate to about 4 out of 5.

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