Family fortunes

24th May 1996 at 01:00
THE LITTLE CHAIR By Rumer Godden Illustrated by Pauline Baynes Hodder Pounds 9.99. The boy who dropped the blancmange over the banisters; the bear that had its revenge for being shot in India; the two sisters sitting out stifling teatimes over their "hated embroidery". This evocative, witty story tracks the author's family legends through a century-and-a-half.

Seven generations of youngest children have taken turns in the smallest piece of furniture in front of the drawing-room fire. Rumer Godden herself falls in the middle of the list. Her father Arthur was the butter-fingers pudding-bearer (who grew up to be a bear-hunter) and the chair was made for his imposing Great-Aunt Emma.

The taste of family history is addictive and the "confident readers" this book is aimed at will be left with many questions. What happened to Arthur's seven brothers and sisters, and to Rumer's cousin Simon? Who had to clean up the blancmange?

Younger readers will be drawn to the domestic detail in Pauline Baynes' illustrations, which flesh out the picture of Victorian and Edwardian upper-middle-class family life. Some of the children's predica-ments are timeless, such as the agonies of boredom and embarrassment suffered at adult gatherings, or Rumer's terror of the bear's flickering eyes.

Today the daughters of the family have given up fine needlework for computers, but the little chair still has its charms. The author's youngest great-grandchild should just have grown into it by now.

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