black dog has made a comeback, and I'm back to my usual prescription of crime fiction ("There's always someone worse off than yourself even if it's only a corpse in a library") and childrens' stories (ah for the days when you could be wrapped up warm in bed, feeling thoroughly miserable with a good book). So having had a dose of Agatha Christie, I'm now back to childhood favourites; and one I hadn't read for a very long time - Pamela Brown's The swish of the curtain.
Brown started to write Swish when she was just 14 in 1938, finishing the novel around the time she was 16. The book was so successful that it paid her way through drama school. Although evidently a novel aimed at children, for such a young author it's an astonishingly assured piece of writing. The novel tells the story of seven children : the Faynes, Halfords and Darwins, who through an accident discover a theatre and set up their own stage company. As the children get older they encounter increasing opposition from their parents, but all are determined to work in the theatre, and to create their own professional repertory company. It's heavily influenced by other equally stage struck childrens' classics such as Noel Streatfeild's Ballet shoes, which was published in 1936; but it's an entertaining read in its own right, and manages surprisingly well to be enduring rather than the period piece that it could have become.
The childrens' struggles to achieve their ambitions will resonate equally well with youngsters of today - even if they have no great ambitions to be on the stage. Most of the writing could easily have been written by a much older author; the only clumsinesses tend to be, understandably, around romance - where the fact that a very young person is writing tend to stand out.
The edition I read was heavily edited - and I have never seen a first edition. The editing has tended to take a bit of a toll on the story, there is the odd reference evidently to an earlier excised incident which makes no sense at all. And some of the period flavour is missing, whilst oddly there seems to be slightly more modern (a la 1950s) slang, which makes me suspect that the book has probably been through several abridgements and at some point an updating. If you can find a copy of the original I'd give it a try although there may be rather more purple prose than in my edition.
Easy to read, at times charming, this is a sweet, heart-warming book. Just right when you're severely in need of something that tells you how good life can be. What truly shines through is the childrens' enduring love and delight in each other; and it is probably this more than anything else that makes this little work both universal and enduring.