Imagine the Famous Five tweeting their thoughts for the day before rambling into the countryside in search of adventure and jolly japes. The Key to Flambards manages to depict this surreal fictional jump as the nostalgic undertones of Enid Blyton seep into the Facebook generation with every turn of the sepia tinted page.
The green and pleasant land of Essex provides the outdoor escape with green vistas of natural hues and soporific reflection easing out an urban Playstation world where the adrenaline fix of Fortnite instils a wild insomnia, or so it seems.
Oxfordshire based Linda Newbery gives unexpected depth to this superficially idyllic canvass by intertwining the contemporary issues of disability, coming out and PTSD. These are edgy socio-political topics initially softened but ultimately given greater impact by the somehow incongruous setting.
Granny Izzy is the recently departed Flambard’s ancestor whose affectionate memories draw her granddaughter Polly back to the ancestral home but it is her daughter Grace, horribly injured in a car crash, who provides the emotional focus as she attempts to overcome physical and psychological trauma.
Grace’s reluctance to replace the reassuring claustrophobia of urban life with the noiseless vacuum of the countryside is gradually overcome as she makes new friends and begins to embrace the joys of open air living. But this seemingly undemanding plot is given perspective as the history of the Russell family is peeled back, layer by layer, by the revelations of a family tree that uncover, in Christina, a matriarch with remarkable qualities.
Her values are those of an Edwardian age, where the risk of violent death
patriotically defending king and country were to be embraced head on, as
opposed to our sedentary 21 st century lifestyle sanitised by a default response to hide behind technology rather than confront reality.
The actual key to Flambards is in opening a window into lives lead away from the glare of the big city and Linda Newbery manages to capture its simplicity without ignoring the inherent complications brought about by emotions and conflict.
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