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Opposite the Cross Keys - An East Anglian Childhood (Hardcover)
Opposite the Cross Keys - An East Anglian Childhood (Hardcover): Sylvia Haymon

Opposite the Cross Keys - An East Anglian Childhood (Hardcover)

Sylvia Haymon

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Haymon, author - under the S.T. Haymon byline - of superior mystery fiction (Stately Homicide, etc.), offers a wry, full-textured close-up of one aspect of her 1920's childhood: an upper-middle-class girl's unusually extensive exposure to How the Other Half Lives. For young Sylvie, the link to the Other Half was possessive nursemaid Maud Fenner, tall and gaunt, only a teen-ager herself - yet a severe master of "Machiavellian machinations." Intensely attached to Maud, Sylvie would sometimes join her on her day off; soon, sleeping on the sofa, she was a frequent, long-term house-guest. And so began her fascinated involvement with the entire Fenner family, in their Norfolk village hovel opposite the Cross Keys pub. Here, where "dirty" was not a word with moral connotations but merely "a style of interior decoration," Sylvie got a vivid look at poverty and privies and water from pumps. Family outings were all-day excursions into menial labor: "spud-lifting," strawberry-picking, eel-catching, chicken-plucking. ("At first the sight of the dead heads, the filmed eyes, floppy combs and sad, naked necks was more than I could stomach, and I was quietly sick under the table, taking care that none of the vomit got on to the chicken I was currently working on.") The company, too, was an eye-opener for Sylvie. Maud's brother Tom was a sweet, addled casualty of the Great War; sister Ellie was a great lump with grand delusions of glamour. Sylvie's favorite playmate - until their disturbing falling-out - was "gypsy gal" Nellie Smith, a child-abuse victim and ruthless entrepreneur. And, above all, there was the Fenners' eccentric neighbor "Chicken" - a wastrel, a thief (with Sylvie as unwitting accomplice), a charismatic embodiment of "laughing lawlessness" and quixotic scheming: when not seducing village girls or stealing silver teapots, he could be found building an impossibly large "ark" on his tiny premises. The central theme here - a sheltered child's opening-up to (and embrace of) grittier folk - is a very familiar one; Haymon's treatment - stronger on rich detailing than on overall shape - would have benefited from some trimming and compression. Still, nicely counterpointed by one Wonderland-ish episode in upper-class surroundings (a mad ride with rich, dotty May Bowden and her surly chauffeur), these evocations of culture-clash and coming-of-age are sure to engage Anglophiles with the mix of crisp intelligence and knees-up earthiness. (Kirkus Reviews)


Imprint: Constable
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Release date: March 1988
Authors: Sylvia Haymon
Dimensions: 220 x 140mm (L x W)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 240
ISBN-13: 978-0-09-468340-2
Categories: Books > Humanities > History
Books > Humanities > History > British & Irish history
Books > Humanities > History > British & Irish history > General
Books > History > British & Irish history
Books > History > British & Irish history > General
LSN: 0-09-468340-9
Barcode: 9780094683402

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