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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal
A long way from Verona indeed. Jane Gardam's novel is set not in the Italian city but in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Verona is, in fact, never mentioned in the book, although there are a couple of references to "Romeo and Juliet", and an Italian prisoner-of-war plays a minor role. The story takes place in 1940/41, during the early days of the Second World War. The...
Published on 15 May 2009 by J C E Hitchcock

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of her best
I was puzzled by this book. I have enjoyed the 'Filth' books by Jane Gardam and thought I was in for more of the same but this is a thin book that left me unsatisfied. I did not find the characters engaging and some of the story lines were disconnected and seemed to have been put in to bulk out the book. Don't be put off reading the 'Filth' books if you have read this...
Published 10 months ago by Caro-arrow


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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, 15 May 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A long way from Verona indeed. Jane Gardam's novel is set not in the Italian city but in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Verona is, in fact, never mentioned in the book, although there are a couple of references to "Romeo and Juliet", and an Italian prisoner-of-war plays a minor role. The story takes place in 1940/41, during the early days of the Second World War. The narrator and central character is Jessica Vye, the thirteen-year-old daughter of a local clergyman. There may be autobiographical elements in the book; Ms Gardam would have been thirteen in 1941, and the seaside town in which it is set is clearly based on her own home town of Redcar. Jessica herself has ambitions to become a writer.

There is no central, strongly-defined plot line; the book is episodic in structure, recounting the main occurrences in Jessica's life over a period of several months. Despite the historical period in which it is set, this is not so much a war story as a coming-of-age story with a wartime setting. Only in one, crucial, episode do the hostilities play a significant role. Jessica has become friendly with Christian Fanshawe-Smythe, the fifteen-year-old son of one of her father's clerical colleagues, and he suggests that they should together visit a neighbouring industrial town to see how its working-class inhabitants live. When they do, they are caught up in an air raid.

The theme of social class is an important one in the book. Although the fathers of both families are clergymen, there is a strong contrast between the wealthy Fanshaw-Smythes and the lower-middle-class Vyes, a contrast brought out when Jessica is invited to spend an uncomfortable weekend as a guest of the Fanshawe-Smythes, and is dismissed as "gharsley" (ghastly) by their daughters. Christian, an ardent Communist, regards the working-class neighbourhood as a hellish slum, whereas Jessica cannot see what is so bad about it. Christian's friendship with Jessica has less to do with any romantic interest in her than with his (probably incorrect) belief that her mildly left-wing father, a former schoolmaster who has left that profession to follow his religious vocation as a curate, shares his Communist convictions.

There is more to the novel, however, than a guide to the British class system as it existed in the early forties. Ms Gardam's main concern was not to explore social issues but to create a portrait of a sensitive girl in her early teens. As one might imagine, the most important element in Jessica's world, apart from her family, is her school, and many of the incidents describe concern her relationships with her classmates and her teachers. One point that comes through is that the British educational system at this period seems to have been in many ways a stiflingly conservative one, more concerned with turning out well-scrubbed, well-behaved little conformists than with encouraging children to think for themselves. (A similar point is made in Muriel Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"). The system is quite ill-suited to the needs of a sensitive, intelligent child like Jessica, whose class teacher Miss Dobbs nurtures a strong dislike for her.

Despite some serious themes, the book is essentially a witty one, even at times a comic one. Jessica has a quite original, idiosyncratic way of looking at the world, as she readily admits; the opening words are "I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine". Jane Gardam encourages us to see the world through Jessica's eyes and to smile with her at its oddities. A very enjoyable novel.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why isn't this book better known?, 10 May 2007
I discovered this book quite a few years ago in a library, and wasn't able to purchase a copy until I found it on amazon. It is brilliant, funny and moving- Gardam is able to capture the perception and voice of an intelligent, sometimes pretentious, sometimes foolish thirteen year old girl perfectly, and like most of her work the time period doesn't jar. I'm not an huge fan of world war II fiction, mostly because it tends to be over written, but here the bombings and the war merely compose part of Jessica's world. Read the first chapter and you won't want to stop reading it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book, 21 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
I first read this in the mid-1970s and have read it probably every year since then. Words and phrases from it have affected the way I write and think, I am certain. Jane Gardam is a writer of unique gifts who should be more widely praised than she is. I have bought this book many times and given it away to friends - I am keeping my own first edition for myself. It is a treasure. Jessica Vye is a wonderful, awkward, sympathetic creation to whom I always want to return.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Touching, 5 Mar. 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
A funny and poignant novel about a young girl growing up in a seaside town in North East England during World War II. Jessica Vye's father Fred gave up a career as a schoolmaster to become a curate; his socialist sympathies led the family to the poverty-stricken North East. Her mother Katie finds live as a vicar's wife unbearably busy and unbearably claustrophobic (though Jessica's parents are happy together), and her little brother Rowley takes up much of her parents' attention. Jessica, a true individual who believes that she knows what people are thinking even when they say something different, and who has a compulsion to always tell the truth, yearns to become a writer. But she only receives limited encouragement at the girls' grammar school that she attends (the eccentric Senior English mistress is the only one on her side) and at home has to fight for attention through all her family's other concerns. The novel follows Jessica's life over about six months during World War II: her friendships at school with the dependable Florence and the less reliable Helen (although fond of them, particularly Florence, Jessica always feels slightly the outsider in groups); her unexpected meeting with an Italian prisoner of war; her experiences at a wealthy vicar's house party, where she begins an almost-relationship with the vicar's somewhat pretentious son Christian (a tormented adolescent with socialist sympathies); her first-hand experiences of war, first in an air raid and later when her school is bombed; a traumatic experience reading 'Jude the Obscure' (having cried for hours over 'Tess of the d'Urbevilles as a child I sympathize!); and finally, a realization that she may really become a successful writer after all. Jessica is a delightfully witty and honest heroine - and hurrah for Gardam for creating a heroine who's not your stereotypical popular teenager but someone more individual. The descriptions of her messy family home and of her parents - wild-eyed constantly tense mother and dynamic and witty writer father - were brilliant, as were the hilarious scenes at the snobby house party. And I really believed in Jessica as a writer. I loved the scenes with her and Miss Philemon the English mistress and felt I learnt a lot from them. The only thing I would have liked to know is what happened to Jessica after the war. Did she finally get away from Cleveland Sands and make a life as a writer? I can't help wishing Gardam had written a sequel. Still, a wonderful book. It was originally billed as a children's book but I think adults would appreciate it even more - I know I do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Read, 31 Mar. 2010
By 
Sabina (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
There is something eccentric about the narrator Jessica Vye who tells you from the beginning "I am not quite normal." But which 13 year old does feel comfortable in her own skin? This one has a life-changing moment the minute she has confirmation from a writer who has visited her school, that she too is a writer "beyond all possible doubt." Other reviewers have given a synopsis, so I will just say that teenagers in my family have enjoyed this book, and I go back to it with great fondness. It has Jane Gardam's original and quirky voice and it led me to read many more of her novels and short stories.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It never does, it never does, 6 Aug. 2010
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
Jessica Vye is 13 and lives on the north east coast of Yorkshire - just like Jane Gardam herself, in fact, who was 13 in 1941, in the early years of the war. That fact alone does not make this an autobiography, of course, but much rings true about the political and social mores, not to mention the wartime privations of the time. This is a lovely book - teenaged girl has ambitions to be a writer, receives a lot of bad advice (mostly from her schoolteachers) and some good advice (a lone teacher who seems to understand), wins a poetry competition and experiences at first hand the English social strata's cruelties at the hands of a family a few steps higher up the ladder.

A certain literary flavour permeates Gardam's work. Her protagonists are always lower or upper middle-class, and we modern readers have been so relentlessly taught to despise the middle-classes, that we cannot but see how deeply unfashionable this beautifully gentle and witty book will appear to the current cultural milieu. Well, bugger the lot of them, this is gorgeously appealing and funny. It knocks most coming of age novels into a cocked hat for the deeply sympathetic and realistic way it handles the agonies of adolescence. It is short (190pp), trenchant, tolerant, delightful. I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of her best, 7 Sept. 2014
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I was puzzled by this book. I have enjoyed the 'Filth' books by Jane Gardam and thought I was in for more of the same but this is a thin book that left me unsatisfied. I did not find the characters engaging and some of the story lines were disconnected and seemed to have been put in to bulk out the book. Don't be put off reading the 'Filth' books if you have read this one first, they really are much better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous, 28 Nov. 2012
I first read this aged 13 myself and have returned to it many times since for sheer pleasure. The previous reviews give a good idea of the synopsis and characters, so all that I will add is that it is witty, insightful, eccentric, moving, and deeply enjoyable. I cannot understand why it is not better known. It is a marvellous book- an adjective the narrator Jessica Vye is fond of. I have read most of Jane Gardam's novels and short stories and as far as I am concerned she is a great talent and somewhat underrated. Do read this!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captures the spirit wonderfully, 22 Mar. 2015
By 
M. J. Millar (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
At times I found this book hard to read because it was almost an invasion of privacy. It's a wonderful vies of life in the North East - I can smell the wild garlic in the Italian Garden at Saltburn while I read it. It gets into the mind of the precocious 13 year and carries you along. Beautiful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 'Jessie-Carr' Vye, 25 Feb. 2014
By 
Norman Housley (Leicester United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I loved this book. It's the best account of adolescence I have read since David Mitchell's Black Swan Green and I found it absolutely captivating. In fact a perfect reading experience, lighting up the day with its charm, sparkle and humour. Like eating strawberries and cream.
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A Long Way From Verona
A Long Way From Verona by Jane Gardam (Paperback - 7 May 2009)
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