Sonya Hartnett is one of my favourite authors. Her words are beautifully chosen and she is able to create phrases that perfectly encapsulate an emotion or sentiment. She writes about ‘growing up’ with great empathy. She must have very vivid memories of her own childhood and adolescence! These qualities and themes are evident in Thursday’s Child and are combined with the mythic qualities with which Hartnett infuses a number of her novels.
Thursday’s Child tells the story of the Flute family: Mam, Da, Audrey, Devon, Harper, Tin and Caffy, and is narrated by Harper. The Flute family is not well off. Da has returned from The Great War and has settled his family in the country. He makes a meagre living by trapping rabbits, their land unable to provide the family with crops as it is ‘particularly exhausted or maybe simply sullen’. When Caffy is born, Tin takes refuge beneath their crowded home, digging away a series a tunnels and underground caves in which he houses himself. As the years progress, the family is hit hard by the Depression: rabbit pelts are no longer no longer in demand, Da makes well-intended, but poor, decisions and the family’s poverty is exploited by an unscrupulous neighbour. Tin becomes estranged from his family as he continues his life underground. Over the years we see him bring his family both ill fortune and good. Harper witnesses her family’s struggle but through the naïveté of a child’s eyes. In Hartnett’s beautiful prose, she describes the illumination that comes as one moves from childhood to adulthood
I had that same feeling I was getting more and more as I grew older, a feeling like I was trying to see through a fog or reach for something my fingers could touch but not wrap around…I was starting to realise the world is not one place , but two, and that you move from one to the other only with the years. I was living mostly in the first world, but I had a toe dipped in the second. The tip of a toe doesn’t tell you much…
I enjoyed Thursday’s Child but I understand how some may find the fantastical character of Tin jarring against the very real story of a family’s struggles in the Depression. I chose, however, to allow myself to be taken by Hartnett’s beautiful writing into the imaginatively constructed world of the Flute family. If straight realism is more your cup of tea, perhaps Of a Boy or Golden Boys may be a safer choice.