Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Diary of Mattie Spenser = Sandra Dallas

The book opens in the present day.... an elderly woman offering a neighbour some "treasures" from her home which is being sold so that she can move to sheltered accommodation. Among the treasures is an old, leather covered journal, whose original clasp is now replaced by a rusty safety pin.  The  neighbour doesn't want to take this item as it seems so personal, but the woman explains that she can't read it now;  perhaps the neighbour could do so and tell her about the contents.

Then Mattie's diary starts.   And it starts in 1865 with a proposal of marriage,  the wedding, and a long journey by wagon from a civilised life in Iowa to a life of toil on newly claimed land in Colorado.  Mattie opens her heart to her diary, for there is no close friend in the new life that she can confide in, and even her husband has no idea what she writes, nor, in fact, does he know of the diary at all.    There are losses right from the start, when the team of 6 good horses are traded in for an assortment of animals more suited to the new life.  People around them struggle, people die, people move away, gossip happens and for three years, Mattie faithfully records her life and her feelings - until something so big, so sad, so sore, stops her for ever.

The end of the book completes the circle, the neighbour having transcribed the book for the elderly woman, who has found something else for the neighbour to read.

I loved this little book (229 pages), and read it in only two days.  It will make you smile, it will make you laugh and cry, and it will surely tell you something about what it was like to be a frontier wife in the 1860s.  It's beautifully written too, the entire diary is written in the more formal style of the time and (bliss!) no modern expressions creep in through poor or shoddy editing!  For me, every Sandra Dallas book is a joy to read.  Never great classics, they have been books I remember fondly, and books I often recommend to others. 

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