The Ventricle of Memory by Shelagh Duckham Cox
This enjoyable memoir is cleverly constructed with surprises throughout. The life story of a young upper class British child expands across three continents and reaches the far flung antipodes closing with life as a £10 Pom in New Zealand. Shelagh Duckham’s clarity of view brings different experiences to light as her family leaves their luxurious and sheltered upper class home for the austerity of months spent as evacuees in Wales during the early years of the Second World War. As the young woman grows and develops her own view of the world it shows a clear line of appreciation and sympathy with all walks of life during the war years. These ever challenging years brought much freedom to young women, but also emphasised the hidebound prejudices which exist in every class system.
Childhood in those years was one of being seen but definitely not heard. The lack of communication between generations was so true. Entertainment such as “Go Home” games at night [in New Zealand it was ‘Go Home, Stay Home!’] and reading universal books like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm gave much authenticity to the thoughts of growing up at that time. The war years were recalled only where incidents briefly touched the child narrator such as meeting an airman who impressed but was never heard of again, and the terrifying sound of overhead bombers heading inland with their dreaded cargo. Later in Canada a light brush stroke mentions soldiers returned from the Pacific lying exhausted on the wharf, instead of standing as soldiers at attention.
The sense of tension from her father’s employment in government positions was ever present but this also brought contact with interesting individuals once he accepted the position as British Agricultural Attaché to Washington D.C. The author’s gentle ability to enable the reader to become acquainted with people who were later known to be of historical significance in the world was done with the skill of hindsight. Historical facts were interwoven without intruding, but rather they highlight the moments in Shelagh’s life. Social contrasts between life in the United States, Canada and Britain in those times were skilfully pointed out. Education and cultural disparities were brought to the fore, but in such a way that it was quietly woven for the reader to absorb.
Eventually the stark reality between leaving all that was familiar, to travel by sea to New Zealand and begin a new life became a focal point. Cultural changes were cleverly drawn throughout the story, with refreshing honesty and candour. I enjoyed the book very much.
REVIEWER: Sonia Edwards
TITLE: The Ventricle of Memory
AUTHOR(S): Shelagh Duckham Cox
PUBLISHER: Mary Egan Publishing