A memoir of East Anglia
In The Quivering Tree, Sylvia Haymon continues the poignant and perceptive memoirs she began in her acclaimed Opposite the Cross Keys. Following her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent decision to move from East Anglia to London, twelve-year-old Sylvia discovers independence for the first time when she becomes a boarder at the home of two spinster schoolteachers.
Sylvia takes up residence in a tiny but beloved garret room in Chandos House, under the protection of the gangly aspen tree that shadows her only window. There she encounters the previously alien emotions and experiences that accompany the beginnings of adolescence. To help—or hinder—Sylvia through these tumultuous times is the household’s cast of eccentric characters: the diminutive, self-effacing mathematics teacher Miss Gosse; her companion, the elegant Miss Locke, a vivacious history mistress who clearly loves the beautiful Sylvia in her own way; and Mrs. Benyon, their tyrannical, alcoholic, but nonetheless quite astute housekeeper. Sylvia escapes from this confusinghome life into the extensive Chandos House gardens, occupied by gardener Joey Betts, who offers Sylvia his unique brand of kindness, and the sullen donkey, Bagshaw, whose lack of conversation often proves to be just what Sylvia needs.
Away from her family for the first time, Sylvia finds that growing up can include loneliness, unfairness and confusion, and also increased knowledge about life, friendship, independence, and ultimately happiness. Spiced with the wit and truth inherent in a child’s merciless eye for the deficiencies of the adult world, The Quivering Tree is a powerful and full-textured evocation of a young woman’s coming-of-age.