Of its type this is one of the better books I’ve read recently. I collect career novels more for their social history than their plots and characterisation which is a good thing. Reading some of them is like the proverbial wading through treacle. Not this one though. It was engaging, with characters who had some depth and, if not a dramatic arc, then at least a decent storyline. It was published by Chatto & Windus as part of the Mary Dunn Career Novel series in 1957. I bought it online from a dealer I trust, sight unseen – and that’s probably just as well as the dustwrapper is somewhat off-putting to someone born more than a decade after its publication! Until Lyn listed it for sale I hadn’t heard of the book or its author, and I don’t know of anything else Beatrice Lloyd wrote.
And that’s a pity because this is an enjoyable book. Yes of course it has all the information any sixteen year-old in the 1950s would need if she were considering a career in nursery nursing. And, like many career novels, it gallops through time at a remarkable pace. But it does tell a story. Ruth Bowen is presented as dreamy, unfocused and young for her age, which is fifteen when the book opens. Her social status is established as being middle class (she’s being educated privately but at a small day school and her father works as a civil servant in one of the Ministries) which is always important in a career novel. After a careers talk at school, she decides that she’d like to work with children. Her parents plan to send her to a private college where she can qualify as a nursery nurse. However, her father’s illness pushes Ruth into qualifying by working and attending college part time. That way, she and we are told, she can earn while training.
That’s the set up and we then follow Ruth through a succession of varied jobs where she is steady but unspectacular and everyone she meets, pretty much, is understanding and supportive. From nowhere really we learn that Ruth, who was born in India and spent her early life in Kenya, has a passionate desire to travel. Finally, she gets a job as a children’s stewardess on a liner sailing to Australia and back. In the course of that voyage she has an unhappy love affair, saves a child from drowning and meets the man she will marry!