- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press (16 July 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1909983292
- ISBN-13: 978-1909983298
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 19.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 42 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,262,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Living in the Shadows Paperback – 16 Jul 2015
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This title is sequel to the acclaimed Changing Patterns and Pattern of Shadows
Praise for Changing Patterns:
'Judith Barrow has not written an ordinary romance but a book that deals with important issues which are still relevant today... ' - Historical Novels Review
'Judith Barrow has written, with great intensity of emotions, an absorbing saga...'- www.gwales.com
'A well-paced, gritty love story' - Western Mail
'Barrow's thoughtful and atmospheric novel shines a light on the shadowy corners of family life...' --- Lancashire Evening Post
About the Author
Judith Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for thirty years. She is the author of three novels, and has published poetry and short fiction, winning several poetry competitions, as well as writing three children's books and a play performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre. Judith grew up in the Pennines, has degrees in literature and creative writing and makes regular appearances at literary festivals.
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These books are very much an every day story of ordinary people, a bit like listening to The Archers or watching Emmerdale Farm before it lost its 'Farm'; I'm sure someone makes someone else a cup of tea every ten pages! They will hold a great nostalgic appeal for those who have lived through these times in similar circumstances, which explains their popularity. But they're more than just a real life drama; Judith Barrow has a clever and subtle way of showing the attitudes of the time amongst Mr and Mrs Average, rather than giving them a gloss, like a nostalgia programme on TV; this, for me, is their greatest strength.
So, the 1960s... it wasn't all free love, Union Jack minis and Twiggy; the atmosphere of the war years of the 1940s and the struggle back in the 1950s prevailed. The extended family in this book come face to the face with scenarios of the type that were brushed under the carpet fifty years ago, ie, homosexuality and domestic violence. The storyline I found the most interesting was that of eighteen year old Victoria, who experienced the sinister side of the hippie movement; it shows how young people, eager to take on new trends, can be manipulated and taken advantage of. Oddly enough, I had only recently watched a few TV programmes about Charles Manson and his strange commune of brainwashed young women; Victoria's tale rang all too true.
As for the older members of the family, the loss of one of them near the end made me feel very sad, even bringing a tear or two to my eye; this bit was very well written indeed. I suspect this is not the last we shall see of this family!
*First generation, we were supposed to see the young protagonist starting a new life with a clean slate, perhaps in a new country.
*The next generation(s) are all about owning their position, fully assimilated and at home in their world.
*And the last generation is both rebel and synthesis, with more similarities to the first generation made possible by the confidence of belonging from the second one.
But the complex, three-dimensional miniatures I met in the first three books of the trilogy stubbornly refused to align with those tropes. First of all, there’s Mary Howarth—the child of parents born while Queen Victoria was still on the throne—who is poised between her parents’ Victorian constraints, adjustment to a world fighting a war, and their own human failures including abuse, alcoholism, and ignorance.When Pattern of Shadows begins in 1944, war-fueled anti-German sentiment is so strong, even the King has changed the British monarchy’s last name from Germanic Saxe-Coburg to Windsor. Mary’s beloved brother Tom is imprisoned because of his conscientious objector status, leaving their father to express his humiliation in physical and emotional abuse of his wife and daughters. Her brother Patrick rages at being forced to work in the mines instead of joining the army, while Mary herself works as a nurse treating German prisoners of war in an old mill now converted to a military prison hospital.
Mary’s family and friends are all struggling to survive the bombs, the deaths, the earthshaking changes to virtually every aspect of their world. We’ve all seen the stories about the war—plucky British going about their lives in cheerful defiance of the bombs, going to theaters, sipping tea perched on the wreckage, chins up and upper lips stiff in what Churchill called “their finest hour”. That wasn’t Mary’s war.
Her war is not a crucible but a magnifying glass, both enlarging and even inflaming each character’s flaws. Before the war, the Shuttleworth brothers might have smirked and swaggered, but they probably wouldn’t have considered assaulting, shooting, raping, or murdering their neighbors. Mary and her sister Ellen would have married local men and never had American or German lovers. Tom would have stayed in the closet, Mary’s father and his generation would have continued abusing their women behind their closed doors. And Mary wouldn’t have risked everything for the doomed love of Peter Schormann, an enemy doctor.
I was stunned by the level of historical research that went into every detail of these books. Windows aren’t just blacked out during the Blitz, for example. Instead, they are “criss crossed with sticky tape, giving the terraced houses a wounded appearance.” We’re given a detailed picture of a vanished world, where toilets are outside, houses are tiny, and privacy is a luxury.
The Granville Mill becomes a symbol of these dark changes. Once a cotton mill providing jobs and products, it’s now a prison camp that takes on a menacing identity of its own. Over the next two volumes of Howarth family’s story, it’s the mill that continues to represent the threats, hatred, and violence the war left behind.
Unlike the joyful scenes we’re used to, marking the end of the war and everyone’s return to prosperity and happiness, the war described in these books has a devastatingly long tail. When Changing Patterns takes up the story in 1950, Mary and Peter have been reunited and are living in Wales, along with her brother Tom.
But real life doesn’t include very many happy-ever-afters, and the Howarths have to live with the aftermath of the secrets each of them has kept. The weight of those secrets is revealed in their effect on the next generation, the children of the Howarth siblings. The battle between those secrets and their family bonds is a desperate one, because the life of a child hangs in the balance.
Finally, the saga seems to slide into those generational tropes in Living in the Shadows, the final book of the Howarth trilogy. Interestingly enough, this new generation does represent a blend of their preceding generations’ faults and strengths, but with the conviction of their modern identities. Where their parents’ generation had to hide their secrets, this new generation confidently faces their world: as gay, as handicapped, as unwed parents, and—ultimately shrugging off their parents’ sins—as family.
But I didn’t really understand all of that until I considered the title of the prequel (released after the trilogy). 100 Tiny Threads tells the story of that first generation, their demons, their loves, their hopes, and their failures, and most importantly, their strength to forge a life despite those failures. That book, along with the novella-sized group of short stories in Secrets, gives the final clues to understanding the trilogy. As Simone Signoret said, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” And it’s both those secrets and those threads not only unite them into a family, but ultimately provide their strength.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that each of these wonderful books can be read alone. But no, don’t do that. In fact, if you haven’t read any of them, you’re luckier than I am, because you can start with the prequel and read in chronological order. I chose to review these books as a set, and I believe that’s how they should be read.
Every now and then, I come across books so beautifully written that their characters follow me around, demanding I understand their lives, their mistakes, their loves, and in this case, their families. Taken together, the Howarth Family stories are an achievement worth every one of the five stars I’d give them.
I've been looking forward to the third book in the Patterns/Shadows trilogy by Ms Barrow and I wasn't disappointed. Her writing never disappoints. The strong characters were instantly recognisable from the previous two books and, as ever, are true to real life and easy to relate to. Living in the Shadows has a larger cast as not only do we have Mary and Peter, and the others, but now they have two children, who embrace everything that the sixties promises. With effortless prose and authentic dialogue, Ms Barrow shows the light and the dark of this era, how hippie freedom can be exploited, how disability wasn't tolerated, how teenagers exposed the generation gap in a way never before seen. The author has a way of introducing texture into every scene - a ladder in a stocking, the ooze of tomato ketchup in a bacon buttie, the tang of sea air and the cold northern English rain. Even if you weren't there at the time, you will be transported back to the exciting new age of plastic, motorways and mini-skirts while all the while the old narrow prejudices cling to their waning power like grim death.
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