When I was invited by Viking Books UK to read and review a new book by Salley Vickers, I was thrilled to bits because her writing has never failed to enthrall me: I hope one day to return to Venice to search for Miss Garnet's Angel.
I was told that the new book was entitled "Grandmothers" and I thought how apt this was, in the year when I became one. It seemed extraordinary that my first-born baby was carrying a little one of her own and the prospect of grand-parenthood was happily anticipated by my best-beloved and me. I confided in a friend that it seemed I was to become a grandmother and she told me, "It's the best thing, the very best," before selling me some yarn with which to commence my knitting duties.
Over the years, I developed a very close relationship with my Gran, mother of my mother. Her memories gave me insight into who my own mother was, and I loved her tales of when her own children were little. We would go out exploring the countryside together, she was my confidant and fate brought us into closer proximity when we left London for rural Buckinghamshire for work. I was devastated when she died a short while before my first-born arrived, as I had looked forward to them meeting. She had arranged for a teddy bear to be made for her first great-grandchild, which was duly loved and treasured. She was an important link to my history, and where I had come from - as indeed were all my grandparents.
Being a grandparent has only just begun for me, but I appreciate the perspective of this role. I am free of the relentless responsibility and hard work of parenting and am not sleep deprived, but my experience of mothering my own children gives me insight into what may be going on with the baby, while understanding what my daughter is experiencing. I can be a listening ear, sounding board and provide a slightly distanced point of view. I am loving the cuddles, tenderness, fun and Eskimo kisses, and am fascinated with learning who my grandson is as he grows and develops. It seems a great privilege.
"Grandmothers" is a beautiful book. I did not expect to receive a beautifully cloth-bound hardback volume with a blue ribbon bookmark and William Morris end-papers, so this was certainly added value (and, having studied bookbinding, I really do appreciate the quality). It is a joy to behold and it is also a joy to read, an immersive story populated by beautifully described characters who feel very real to me.
There are three grandmothers: Nan, Blanche and Minna, who are all very different (one lives in a tower block, one in a mansion flat and one in a shepherd's hut on a smallholding) but have in common a grandmotherly relationship to a child. These grandmothers perform an essential role in their families, providing childcare, a bit of discipline and spoiling, and a consistent security when life is troubled. Billy, Kitty and Rose all enjoy spending time with their grandmothers, and the grandmothers provide a touch of magic in helping problems to be solved, given time. In the meantime, their presence through school terms and holidays oils the wheels of daily living and, when their paths cross, they help one another and friendships develop.
So, to me this book is about love and community across generations and a testament to being who we are and being true to ourselves. Life is better if we are not too constrained by generational roles and if we are open to learning to give and take support from one another. It is a wonderful read and I will be enjoying it again. Thank you, Salley Vickers, for writing a tale both wise and delightful.