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on 21 July 2017
I enjoyed this book at the beginning but found it very samey and boring. I could relate to some parts of the girls' life but I did wonder why the author put so much effort into writing something so drab. I read the book because it was our book club read but it put me off reading other books by this author!
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on 19 May 2017
A lovely memoir of growing up in a seaside town in the 20s and 30s
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on 10 March 2010
This beautifully written childhood memoir is set between the two world wars and I really cannot praise it highly enough. It is such a lovely book about a much simpler time when children really got to be just children. This is not to say that it's all picnics on the beach and midnight feasts, it certainly isn't. The author writes with real personal integrity about her parents and life in Newquay and it is never sickly or cloying. I really savoured every word and eked it out just to make it last that little bit longer. My only complaint is that it ended.....and I am now longing to know what happened to everyone. Perfect read.
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on 2 May 2016
Gentle, sad, insightful. A lovely book. Recommend. Am working my way through her others now
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on 11 May 2012
A couple of chapters into this book I was tempted to abandon it, but I'm glad I decided to go on with it. It takes a while to become hooked on the characters, not least because the author writes like one of those irritating people who start out telling you one anecdote and then wander off on a tangent when they're reminded of another story. A bit more structure would have improved the flow. Having said that, she does draw the various characters with great insight and warmth so you feel you are living with them in Newquay in the nineteen thirties. Which made it all the more frustrating to get the end and find it only contained information on the author's subsequent life - for heaven's sake, what happened to Pam, Jim and baby Harvey? How did the rest of her parents' lives pan out? Did she keep in touch with Lily and the rest of regulars in Newquay? A more perceptive editor would have added this postcript; perhaps if they read this, they will on the next edition.
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on 29 July 2009
A gentle and tender memoir of childhood summers spent almost entirely on the beach. Disfunctional parents are described lovingly and with affection, and their disjointed relationships are treated with compassion despite being, at the time, probably quite difficult to cope with. An interesting insight into an otherwise apparently 'normal' British family between two World Wars.
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on 26 September 2008
This is a lovely book and so easy to read. The other review tells you the story so I have no need to do the same except to say it is a delightful memoir of a childhood in Cornwall between the wars.
I loved it too!
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The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith

With an attractively designed cover this is a tempting book for anyone who knows Newquay, Cornish beaches and the `Far South West.'

The author Emma Smith ( Maidens' Trip,The Far Cry,The opportunity of a lifetime and some popular children's books) aka Elspeth Hallsmith born in Newquay, 1923, is woman with the most remarkable and impressive memory. Just think how much or little paper you yourself could cover with readable, fact filled, chronologically ordered childhood memories of your first twelve years. She manages 358 pages.

The huge list of names just pours out, the places and events neatly in order, all bringing back to life the intimate atmosphere of a holiday town where residents do really know each other, and their place; in all seasons, `Between the Wars'. These who live there and those who visit Newquay will get a special joy from this book as so many of the references will be familiar.

Sunny summer days spent happily on the beaches and winter days of study and the children occupying themselves are all perfectly pinned down like a butterfly in a glass case; Emma Smith has pulled off a pretty big achievement with her childhood memoir. That's not to say it is always easy to read, others have put it down half way through, as`nothing much happens' but just when I reached that point myself, Laurence of Arabia rode over the sand on his motor bike. Yes, truly he did and that is your reward for sticking with the tale.

Emma's mother Janet was a deep, interesting woman, denied three fiancées by the Great War and sweetly still in touch with their relations. An heiress, no less, which accords some very real relief to family tensions and changes things considerably so `something does actually happen'. I liked her and felt for her, she did her best at all times and was a kindly realist, tempering Emma's childhood with love although the word was never spoken. Emma burns with the desire tell her Mother how much she loves her but unlike today's "Love You" she cannot come out with it. Their help, Lucy, patiently in the back ground is also closely involved with their day to day life.

Her Father Guthrie, does confess to his love for his daughter Emma, just once, in a short and not very good poem, which was moving. He is a boiling pot of suppressed emotion and thwarted ambition, totally true in type for the time and experiences he had endured; gaining the DSO as a Captain in the Great War. Accommodations are made for him within his family and more widely; unspoken understanding offered.

For me the most touching pieces of writing were the stoical endurance of illness and surgery by her twin brother with his double hernia and sister with her TB affected glands. Also the anticipation surrounding the birth of Harvey, which seemed to go on forever to the children, this was well presented and struck a chord. It was fascinating to see the development of the children's minds, assisted by the bounty of books from all quarters, slowly at first and then a flood. The best of educations and the one that stood the author, who is also a distinguished novelist, in good stead.

I recognised the etiquette, now presumably lost forever, of being `asked to tea' in all its old fashioned charm and the dear and thoughtful interest shown in young people by their elders, childless adults - demonstrating the reality of the proverb "It takes a whole village to raise a child".

There are photos throughout that are listed in the front, although why not under each picture, who wants to keep flipping back and forth; these show you her family, growing up, mainly in swimwear. I wonder if the photo albums, diligently kept and plentiful, were a useful aide memoire and how much she canvassed her family for reminders. Err, just thinking as to how one would go about such a project, and why anyone other than your close family would want to read it...Tempted to do so yourself? It would be an intriguing exercise.
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on 30 September 2013
I found this a really good and interesting read, it conjured up the era remarkable well. Nevertheless I did have some reservations as to the authors ability to remember so much of her childhood in such details. It could, of course, be that some people do have very much better recall than others. I do not feel that this in any way detracts from a very readable and entertaining book
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When starting a review I think carefully about the opening sentence. I want to write something that will grab the reader's attention, will be witty, wise, amusing, smart, erudite ...yes, well gave up on that one and just as well as the only opening line I an think of relevant to this latest read is:
I loved this book.
There you have it. Perfect opening line. And it is true. I simply loved reading the Great Western Beach . Emma Smith's award winning novel, the Far Cry, was republished by Persephone a few years ago and I read it then with great enjoyment, not least for the fine writing, not a dot or comma or excessive adjective anywhere, just a clear flowing narrative.
In this book Emma Smith recalls her childhood spent in Newquay between the two World Wars. She and her three siblings and their totally mismatched and unhappy parents live in straightened circumstances which her father, in particular, loathes. A hero in the first World War, decorated for bravery and awarded the DSO, he cannot come to terms with his mundane existence and is prone to violent rages and cruelty towards his family. Emma is his favourite because, as she freely admits, she keeps quiet out of sheer self preservation and does not argue with him. Though he is not a lovable person she feels shame that she does not love her father, but she certainly seems to understand him and the frustration and inner rage that eats him up. One evening he takes her down to the beach to watch a violent storm:
"My father stood wordless, perfectly still, holding my hand and gazing out across the surging, heaving, tossing savage ocean, smiling dreamily almost as though mesmerised by the storminess of the scene confronting him. I knew how he felt. His mood was peaceful because, for a short while, here and now there was no need to be angry. The violence of the wind and waves was expressing on his behalf, more vividly than he ever could, the rage that had to be kept bottled up inside him"
Such insight and understanding makes us feel far more sympathetic towards him than he deserves, as he sounds a pretty rotten person to live with, is petty and cruel towards his wife, terrorizes his quiet, nervous son who he despises and reduces his wife to frequent tears.
"Oh my parents, my poor tragic parents, my good and beautiful, brave, dramatic, unperceptive mother, my disappointed, embittered, lonely talented father, locked both of them inside a prison they had not deserved, for reasons they did not understand, by conventions they took to be immutable laws..."
Emma's mother receives an inheritance from an uncle and financially life improves with a move to a bigger house and membership of the tennis club and society in general which was barred to the family when lacking in funds and life broadens and becomes more satisfying. The varied and many eccentric characters living in Newquay are portrayed with great warmth and charm and, despite the unhappiness of her parents, Emma at least, has memories of a wonderful childhood by the sea and writes of it with great happiness. Anybody who reads this book who has run shivering from a swim in British waters and rushed back to their mother to be wrapped up in a towel, given a sandwich, a boiled egg, a Fyffes banana (it was always a Fyffes when I was a child) and a plastic cup of warm milky tea from a giant thermos, and to feel the exhilarated flow of warmth which follows a bracing dip, will understand exactly why I enjoyed this book so much.
When Emma and her family eventually move to Plymouth, as her father has been promoted from his rather lowly bank clerk position, she realises what she is losing and is bereft:
"How can I express in words the immensity of the loss I have begun to realise is mine?...the sea, the sea, most of all I shall miss the sea. Goodbye my childhood"
I shall end as I started. I loved this book.
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