Margaret Dickinson is one of my guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. All of her works are period novels set in the time of my grandmother’s generation, mostly following families through times of war or young girls growing up on farms and the challenges they go through. My grandma and I will often gossip over the latest novel that we’ve read written by Dickinson. I used to love her writing a lot more before I went to uni, but my uni education has shown me the pit falls in her narratives.
‘Welcome Home’ was one of her novels that I have meant to read since it was published, but only recently gotten around to it. It encompassed everything I have come to expect from Dickinson – she focuses on creating strong characters that readers can relate to, and follows a section of their life story. In this novel Dickinson detailed the lives of two friends through out war time, and the effects the war had on their home lives. Dickinson can always create a strong sense of character in her novels – her novels are undeniably character driven, and she expertly gets you attached to them. This is one of the reasons why I still love reading her novels – I want to see what’s going to happen to the characters!
Some could argue that her novels are pulp fiction, hence why they’re my guilty pleasure. A lot of the novels have some very bad writing habits in them, such as telling you what she means rather than showing you what she means. For example, she will write a brilliant passage of conflict between the characters, then go on to explain why the characters act how they do. This is so easy to do, but completely unnecessary as she’s already shown us why they disagree. Her narrative would be so much more gripping if this wasn’t there. There is also more telling through out, such as in this novel in particular Dickinson went on to detail exactly what a fisherman’s way of life was, then through out the novel still repeat things she had told us earlier, such as how fishermen’s wives were superstitious. Another thing that niggled at me when reading this was the occasional sexist expectations of female characters, but this is what attitudes at the time would have been like so I can’t criticise this too much.
The only other bad habit that Dickinson falls victim to is showing how much research she does for each novel. In order to show different ways of life, Dickinson would have to do a lot of research, and a lot of authors fall into the trap of trying to show their readers how much research they have done. Dickinson has done this in several of her novels that I have read, and it really does hamper her narrative when she does so. It’s a bit of a debateable topic – there will be some readers who won’t know anything about your novel subject, so there will be a certain amount of exposition you need to put into your narrative. Unfortunately Dickinson can sometimes fall into the other category and give you way more than you needed to know to understand the context of the novel.
Despite these pet hates of mine, I still loved the novel. Dickinson is still expert at pulling you in with her characters – I really wanted to know what was going to happen with Edie’s children as they grew up, and especially what was going to happen to them after the war. I was so happy when I guessed the main plot twist, and then was anxiously reading to see what would happen in the end. I almost thought Dickinson was going to leave Beth’s plot thread hanging, but thankfully she pulled her in before the narrative ended. Dickinson is very good at her pacing, and neatly puts various plot twists through out the narrative to keep readers engaged.
I would give this novel a 4/5 – despite the bad writing habits that Dickinson can fall victim too, (as so many of us do!) I still love her novels purely because of her characters. Also despite the fact Dickinson has so many novels under her belt, she always manages to find a way to make her latest novel so original, especially with the characters. One of my favourites written by her was ‘The Tulip Girl’, and the ‘Plough the Furrow’ trilogy which follows three generations of women. Plus I love having a good natter with my Grandma about them.