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#91 The Sunlight on the Garden - Elizabeth Speller (2006)

In 1880, Ada Curtis bore Gerald Howard the first of several illegitimate children. Ada was a housemaid, the daughter of a Lincolnshire butcher. Gerald was her employer and the son of a once-grand family now obsessed with its own threadbare nobility. They thereby sent their descendants tumbling chaotically into the twentieth century. More than a century later, inspired by the stories, re-inventions and half-truths in her family's past, Elizabeth Speller - Gerald and Ada's great-granddaughter - set out to trace the criss-crossing lines of their history. As she herself recovered from a mental breakdown, she began to wonder if that history offered any explanation of what had happened in her own life. The search brings vividly to life the passions and hopes of four generations, amid tales of wealth inherited and lost, eccentricity, sexual indiscretion and madness. Ultimately, this book will remain in the memory as a beautifully realised sequence of portraits of mothers and daughters.

Having read Elizabeth Speller's excellent novel "The Return of Captain John Emmett" I looked forward to reading this memoir of her family. I was not to be disappointed, it is a beautifully written, poignant memoir.
To read "The Sunlight in the Garden" is to clamber upon a magic carpet, which then swoops and dives through the decades and back again. This non chronological narrative works wonderfully well. The mothers and daughters of Elizabeth Speller's family are slowly and truthfully revealed to us, in all their fragility. Through wars, divorce and madness, these memorable women's voices resonate. Elizabeth Speller's family is fascinating and complex - and in this fairly slim volume (240 pages) we are treated to a host of family anecdotes, secrets and fears. I was fascinated by the account of Elizabeth's school days and her time living in Berlin. The story of her Elizabeth's grandmother, her manic-depression, and service alongside the Polish forces in Scotland during WW2, will also remain with me I think. I loved every page of this beautifully written book.
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