Well, there’s been quite a buzz on LibraryThing and Stuck-in-a-Book about this little book – so, like many others I picked up a bargain priced copy (in lovely condition!) on Amazon and away I went.

The daughters in question are the five Harvey girls – Pandora, Thisbe, Morgan, Cressida and Teresa. They live with Mother and Father in a ramshackle house, keeping themselves to themselves and coming across as mildly eccentric but mostly harmless. Eldest girl Pandora has married and gone to London and the rest of the girls use their various talents mainly at home. Money should not be an object, as Father is a very successful mystery writer, although their doesn’t seem to be an abundance of cash about as the house is shabby, the eldest girls can remember days of three servants (instead of just an occasional woman) and there are restrictions on which rooms to heat in the house. Mother is a semi-invalid with an unspecified nervous condition, which means the girls and Father have to be careful not to upset her too much – hence their somewhat reclusive way of life (Teresa at 15 has not attended school for years).

So far, so good. A straightforward kind of story, maybe. But actually it’s not. Our narrator and guide in this tale is Morgan, the middle child – we see all the events through her eyes, and she is a kind-hearted, enthusiastic girl with a love of piano playing. As we read on, it soon becomes clear that all is not well in this eccentric family. Pandora is concerned about the girls not getting out enough and meeting people, and when they do come across a young man they tend to ambush him. Thisbe and Cressida in particular seem to think there is more to their mother’s condition than meets the eye and as the book progresses, there is a dark undercurrent building – the reader is left wondering what has caused this reclusive state to come about? Uncle Gregory comes to visit and seems to get a very different reaction from Mother and we begin to think “Who is guarding the daughters – and why and from what?”

I don’t want to give away the ending to anyone who hasn’t read this yet, but this was quite a surprising little book and not what I expected. It’s not lightweight and the rather disturbing undertones are handled really well, probably because they are presented in a relatively matter-of-fact way. It’s very cleverly written and although we begin by accepting Morgan’s viewpoint, we start to question as the book goes on. The characters are strongly drawn and the setting of the house and surrounding area evoked beautifully. And there is much humour in the book – the girls rush from drama to drama, and there are hilarious scenes at a posh cocktail family and a Sunday School teaching session. And we do become very much involved with the girls and their relationship with each other – Morgan and Teresa spend a lot of time together and have adventures going to the cinema and cafe (though I did wish the author had not kept make fat jokes about Teresa as if all females have to be thin!).

Ultimately, I think the review quoted on the flap of my dustjacket pinpointed one of the important elements of this book – that of love and understanding and forgiveness:

No mere reviewer can hope to catch with words the glow in the voice or the light in the eye which a likeable book can kindle. Mrs. Tutton’s first novel is full of the qualities that kindle affection. The story which she tells with such humour and sparkle is founded on a situation which is at bottom sinister and could easily have been made depressing. I was afraid at first that she was accepting Morgan’s dutiful view of her parents, and did not see them for the monsters of selfishness they were. She did – and, far more charitable than I am, she forgave them. Among other things, the book is a lesson in charity and tolerance, a lesson all the stronger for being lively and amusing and so delightfully sane.

Nothing I can say will express the charm, the sheer likeableness of the five girls, or the humour with which Mrs. Tutton tells their story.

L.A.G. Strong

The book is in many ways about love gone wrong – Mother’s love for her girls is warped by the fact that she is allowed to get away with her monstrous behaviour by the very people who love her so much. If her sister Agnes had not spoiled her so much, if Uncle Gregory had had more influence, if Father had been stronger with her – but we could fill pages with “What ifs” and I suppose at the end of the book the girls are going to be fine and get on with their new existence, Father will take proper care of Mother and give her the life she should have, and life will go on.

I loved this book, which has been compared by Simon with “I Capture The Castle”. I have to say that it’s many years since I read “Castle” and I didn’t actually get on with it as well as I did with this one. I’ve found myself going back to “Daughters” since I finished and reading passages again and I think this will definitely be a book I’ll read and read again!

(Just a thought – although this is easy enough to get hold of on Amazon cheaply, it’s crying out to be reprinted. I couldn’t find out anything about the author online, so maybe it’s time for Persephone Books to put their sleuths to work and track down all the gen for a lovely reissue!!)