I knew I would enjoy Judith, and I did. I galloped through it in two days. Noel Streatfeild's authorial voice is the voice of my childhood reading; I read Ballet Shoes so many times that I still know it almost by heart, and I read every book of hers that I could lay my hands on. And even though this is an adult book, the voice is the same -- calm, astute and wise -- clear-eyed but compassionate about human psychology and the infinite ways that people can torment and test each other. Noel Streatfield is the story-telling voice I think of when I talk about being 'in safe hands'; I trust that she will carry me through a story without jarring, without hysteria, but always with something interesting to say. I can settle down into her writing like I'd settle into a warm bath.
BUT having said all that, I was amused by many aspects of this book, not in the way the author intended. Published in the mid-1950s, it bears the assumptions of its time. Judith, at the centre of the story, is a needy and vulnerable adolescent who clings to whoever will show her love, and the novel charts her interactions with her various family members, who mostly let her down. I did balk at the very end when Judith, who has been exhorted to find her independence throughout, is married off at nineteen; and also that her final moment of standing up for herself, which fills her husband with a warm glow of happiness, follows a car crash where someone is killed… Hm!
Noel Streatfeild often breaks the rule of 'show, don't tell.' She does a lot of telling; often, the dramatic and decisive moments of the plot occur off-screen, and are recounted by one character to another (and the reader) long afterwards. In fact, plot is not really Streatfeild's strong point; her strength is character. She's not a radiant writer like Rumer Godden, but for my personal comfort reading, she's my first choice.