Monday, December 21, 2009

Listening Valley by D. E. Stevenson

256 pages
Published 1943, reprinted 1972
Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.

Listening Valley is a companion novel (not a sequel) to Celia's House by D. E. Stevenson. This is not surprising as most of Stevenson's novels are interlinked, although only a few are part of a series.

The story within Listening Valley opens in the early 1920 and 30s in northern England near the Scottish border and then some time is spent in London. Antonio Melville, a fragile and shy girl, is the heroine of the story.

In the unfortunate, yet typical Edwardian fashion of parenting Mr. and Mrs. Mellville turn over the care and grooming of Antonio (Tonia) and her beloved, but outgoing and adventurous sister, Louise (Lou) to the capable hands of a Nanny. It is a very lonely life for the girls and this eventually leads them to choose two very different ways of dealing with their emotions and two very different paths in life. Lou chooses her own course and finding love flees to the other side of the world. Tonia on the other hand finds solitude and happiness in what she comes to call her "listening valley" -- a place she cannot see, but only hear; a place within herself, within her mind. How Tonia breaks out of this "private cocoon" and what happens in her life is the subject and content that drives this story.

Listening Valley is a romance in typical D. E. Stevenson fashion, but likewise it in typical fashion it is more than just a romance. There is plenty of interesting historical and geographical details woven seamlessly into the story, there is adventure and drama and tragedy and comedy. Listening Valley is a truly entertaining, engaging, and pleasing read.

Because it is a companion novel and not a sequel it takes some time before Tonia runs into characters from Celia's House. And when she does it is really only two that take any real role in this story. Still it gives the reader of Celia's House a chance to find out what happens after the end of that novel.

There wasn't much that I didn't like about Listening Valley, it was such a good story. At the worst it is a somewhat predicable story at the best it has several glimpses of foreshadowing throughout the story, but this doesn't take away from the enjoyability of the book. One aspect that I didn't like was the cold and selfish way that Tonia's mother (and often her father) treated Tonia and Lou. To treat your child as if they were a burden rather than a blessing and joy in life is just so very sad! But Stevenson doesn't condone this behavior, rather she subtly tells it like it was (for some people) during the early to mid 20th century and then shows the problems and consequences of such relationships between parent and child and how despite this type of child-rearing a child can grow and mature and overcome their past. When Tonia reaches early adulthood she receives the attentions of a man old enough to be her father and while for some this might be creepy, I found it fit in well with the time, place, and story line of this novel. It was necessary for the sake of Tonia as a person and to help her reach her final destination as an adult.

Listening Valley is largely set during the early years of the second world war and from the local RAF base to the threat of German spies this novel is far more adventurous and suspense filled then Celia's House. It's a good companion story a worthwhile read and one I hope to add to my personal library. I would rate this one up at a 4 or 4.5. If you can't find this one at your local library or through your library's ILL program then try online. Used copies are available through some sources at fairly reasonable prices.

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