Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden was first published in 1963 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1989.
It’s the 1960s, Emmie Bean is 14 years old and she’s really in charge of her family which consists of her father, grandmother, older sister Alice and eight year old Oliver. Alice is determined to become a nurse and has to study, – when she’s not with her boyfriend, she seems happy to leave all the responibility to Emmie. Oliver has problems, he is happy to lie and steal and is very manipulative. Emmie is terrified that he’ll be caught stealing something, it’s just another of her many worries. The mother had been a well-known naturalist but she’s not around, in fact the children seem to think she is dead. As the father has a drink problem, he’s a journalist and claims he needs to go to pubs to get contacts, it’s Emmie who has to worry about providing school uniforms, life is tough and money very scarce. Then to make matters worse the grandmother’s age begins to tell on her. Emmie’s mother had encouraged her to start writing a diary/notebook and Emmie wonders if getting it published could be a way out of money problems.
Emmie has had to grow up fast but when new people arrive at a nearby house things change. Marjorie and Nick are a young married couple with no worries, Marjorie’s father is very wealthy and they’re financially secure, but are living a rather empty life with nothing to strive for. They become involved with the Bean family and Emmie is quite smitten by Nick. There’s a sadness to Nick and Marjorie and the Bean family seem to fill a void for a time.
This was an enjoyable read, but a difficult one to write about. I’ve read a few books by Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War is probably her best known book and I think I liked that one more than this one, but that may just have been because of my liking for a WW2 setting.
This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.