Saturday, January 9, 2021

Simon by Rosemary Sutcliff - a new-to-me and absorbing historical novel

Title: Simon 
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92)
Illustrator: Richard Kennedy 
Publication: Oxford University Press, hardcover, 1959 (originally published 1953) 
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Description: It had never seemed of much importance during their boyhood that Simon Carey was for Parliament and his friend Amias Hannaford a Royalist. But when the Civil War between the parties broke out, and two years later they were old enough to take part in it, they found themselves on different sides. This story tells of the last stages of the English Civil War waged in the west country, and the account of the part played by Simon in the fighting. Several times in the course of it he encounters Amias, and these meetings leave him torn by conflicting loyalties. Finally, the day comes when he is forced to put the strength of his friendship to the test, weighing it against his loyalty to the Parliamentarian cause. 

Quote from Noel Streatfield: Here is an author who writes with great distinction . . . Simon is a book that I recommend with all my heart.” 

My Impressions: Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my mother’s favorite authors so when I saw this in Gill Bilski’s catalog last spring and did not recognize it as having been published in the US, I decided to buy it for her birthday. Thanks to the pandemic it arrived in time for Christmas instead! Coincidentally, December was the centenary of Sutcliff’s birth so many admirers were expressing their admiration for her books shortly after I finished it. 

I am a big fan of historical fiction set during the English Civil War and this did not disappoint. Simon is sober and intense, as befits his Parliamentary allegiance, while Amias is an idealistic and dashing Cavalier. The reader, knowing the fatalities of war and that Sutcliff is not sentimental, fears for their safety whenever they encounter each other and even when they don’t, as Sutcliff also provides vivid and unnerving battle scenes. I did wish for some strong female characters. Simon’s sister Mouse (who should insist people use her name, Marjory) has potential but is a minor character, as is Susanna, Simon’s Exeter landlady’s downtrodden daughter.
All the fandom for Sanditon, deprived of its second season by short-sighted executives who apparently made their decision before the series aired in the US, has reminded me of my favorite Masterpiece Theatre, By the Sword Divided, set during the English Civil War about sisters who find themselves on different sides (I love the theme music at the beginning!).  I may have mentioned that the last episode was recorded and accidentally taped over, so I don't know how the second season ended!  Much anguish and recrimination took place.
Although I read this at the end of 2020, it is my first review of 2021for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.
Source: Family copy 


Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I've heard of Sutcliff before, but never tried out her works. Since I'm participating in the Historical Fiction challenge as well, definitely an author to look out for. :-)

Katrina said...

I've read quite a lot of her books over the years but not this one, another to add to the list. I just got a lovely Folio copy of Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time in the post today - I'm blaming you! I'm really looking forward to reading it.

LyzzyBee said...

I have read a good few of hers but she certainly doesn't spare the violence and agony, does she - one with Vikings in haunts me still!

CLM said...

Very true, LyzzyBee, no whitewash from Rosemary! This book definitely had some violence and gruesome deaths, as is realistic but likely glossed over in some juvenile historical fiction. This is more YAish in that sense. My mother enjoyed it but said she was bracing herself for an upsetting death of a prominent character the whole book. I have definitely not read all her books so have some good reads ahead.

Katrina, I know you will love that book but don't feel you have to read it right away (although I bet if you start, you won't be able to stop). I googled the Folio edition and it looks lovely. Our original copy was a Viking hardcover with a sort of pink border containing 16th century figures that my mother gave to my aunt. I am ashamed to realize I must have lent it to someone who never returned it. I did buy a replacement hardcover and pb but curse myself for losing that nice hardcover.

Lex, I don't usually do Challenges because I have enough to worry about with work and grad school but it did look fun. We'll see how it works out.

Cath said...

I think it's strange that I never read Rosemary Sutcliff as a child. I saw her books in the library but never wanted to pick them up. I don't understand it. I saw the movie of The Eagle of the Ninth a year or two ago and thought it was excellent so perhaps it's time to get to the books.

Good luck with the Historicals challenge, I'm doing that one too but haven't started yet.

Marg said...

I have at least one of Sutcliff's books on the shelf - I think it is Eagle of the Ninth!