Pauline, Petrova and Posy are the three wards of Gum, short for Great Uncle Matthew--a fossil collector that travels all over the world. He places the girls, as babies, into the capable hands of his niece Sylvia and Nana, her nurse. Pauline he rescues from a shipwreck; Petrova is an orphan of Russian parents; and Posy is the daughter of a great dancer, a single mother who can't afford to keep her. They are all brought one by one to the house in the Cromwell Road, and then Gum disappears on his longest trip away yet. Desperate for money, Sylvia, whom the girls call Garnie (a shortened form of "Guardian"), takes in borders. Each border is highly influential on the girls' lives, and it is decided that they shall learn dancing and acting in order for them to earn a little money once they are twelve. All three from vastly different backgrounds, they exhibit varied talents and hopes for the future. The vow they make on their birthdays each year binds them together: that they put Fossil, the last name they choose for themselves, in the history books.
When I was a child I had an audio book of Ballet Shoes, read by Jan Francis, that I listened to many, many times. I was a ballet student at the time, and although I wasn't very good I absolutely loved my dance classes. I loved the ballet-pink tights and white leotards; the older girls in their pointe shoes; the chalk powder on the stage at the end of year performances. I found Ballet Shoes so fascinating. The girls came from another world, one of shillings and proper teas and whooping cough. I loved how they, at such a young age, were able to begin earning money on the stage to help with the running of the household. How new clothes were always such an issue as they needed nice dresses for auditions, and they would buy organdie and velvet in yards and Nana and Cook and Clara would run the dresses up in one mad afternoon.
I bought a sweet hardcover edition recently to read again, and I was surprised to find that the audio version that I'd loved was slightly abridged. It was a real treat, because it meant now I was able to read even more Ballet Shoes! The best comfort books, I think, are favourites from your childhood. When I'm feeling blue I also love to reread the Narnia books and a beautiful fairytale-style story called The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye.
Now older, I was able to sympathise a lot more with Petrova Fossil. As a girl I was fascinated with Pauline, the actress, and Posy, the prima ballerina-in-the-making. Petrova is probably the most likable and authentic of the three girls, the one who hides her distaste for dancing as they so desperately need the money she can bring in as a dancer. Pauline, as the eldest, feels responsibility the keenest, and in the end makes the biggest sacrifice of all. I'm the baby of my family--well, the youngest of two--and while I find Pauline noble, I didn't identify much with her, now or as a child. Posy was always my favourite, for her sense of fun and her love of dancing. At the end of the novel the author invites the reader to choose which Fossil they would choose to be. I always wanted to be Posy. I still want to be Posy, but I have a new found love for Petrova, despite not having a great affection for cars and aeroplanes.
Which Fossil did you want to be? Also, has anyone seen the film version of Ballet Shoes? Is it good?
As I said the other day, I had a very bad weekend. I broke up with my boyfriend. It was very sudden. Very heart-breaking. It's a mixed blessing being the one who gets to keep the apartment. Coming home and seeing holes in places where his things used to be, or our things that he has taken, has been a very distressing experience. So is walking the streets around here, where we lived together for more than a year, and seeing "our" cafe and walking "our" route home. We had nearly three years together. They went so fast, and they were very happy ones.
On Wednesday I got the terrible news that a family member had died. It was unexpected, untimely and tragic. I still don't know why it happened. I don't understand at all.
Thank you for all the lovely messages that have been sent. I will try and reply to them individually very soon. I haven't been reading as many posts as I meant to these last few weeks, and there are several blogs that I always like to comment on. I'm sorry for my absence, and I will be back to myself anon.
Meanwhile, which books do you read for comfort? Lauren said she had a big list to share with me. Do share, Lauren!