A Sixpenny Song by Jennifer Johnston
Published by Tinder Press
5th June 2014
Not every death is a tragedy. Note every silver lining is intact.
Annie’s father is dead. She isn’t sorry. A rich and domineering man, his chief passion was money and, long ago, when his lovely, fragile wife died suddenly, he sent Annie to school in England, and tried to ensure that her mother was never mentioned again.
But at last his tyranny is over. And so Annie leaves her London life and goes back to Dublin, to the family house she hates, and discovers that now, just when she thought she was free of her father, he has left her the house and intends her to live as he would have wished. Does she dare to defy him one more time? And who can she trust to tell her the truth about her mother’s life and death?
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
She hadn’t really liked him very much, Dada (he preferred it if she called him Father; to him Dada was an untidy name for a man of his standing).
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money…
From the tip of his head, black hair slightly streaked with silver the last time she had seen him, which she would have to admit was ten years ago, to the toes of his highly polished shoes he looked immaculate, handsome, a man of class and wealth. Which, of course, he was. He liked things to go his way; his word was law, and always what he thought was the best for you.
‘I only want what is best for you.’
How many times had she heard those unanswerable words?
And now he was dead. She wondered if he had ordered his death as he had ordered everything else in his life.
She hadn’t been back here for over ten years.
She had been barely eighteen when she had left Dublin. She had just thrown some stuff in a suitcase and set off as so many others had done down the years and indeed still do for their various reasons. Her reason had been freedom, her destination London. From London it had appeared to her she could survey the world; she would be able to make decisions, her own decisions, not her father’s. Dada had a scheme mapped out for her. He had wanted her to follow him into the money world. He wanted her to move with grace and confidence among the wheelers and dealers and eventually marry one of them and consolidate their assets, their two worlds. He had sent her to school in England a couple of years after her mother had died, when she was barely twelve years old and too young to fight her corner. ‘I only want what is best for you,’ he had said, when he had dropped the bombshell. ‘Your mother and I have only ever wanted the best.’
Booker-shortlisted author Jennifer Johnston has a number of acclaimed novels under her belt, and I feel that A Sixpenny Song should be no different. Annie’s estranged father has died, and as the only child, she has to return to Dublin for the funeral and to settle his assets, as well as deal with ‘wife number two’. Annie hasn’t been home for ten years, she hasn’t had a reason to. She’s very happy with her life in London, working in a bookshop, which is a far cry from her father’s dreams of the life in finance that he set out for her.
Annie’s beautiful, but fragile mother, Jude, died when she was ten years old. Annie doesn’t remember that much about her, or her death. Returning home, she meets gardener cum handyman Kevin, and his aunt Miss Dundas. Both of them knew her mother, though in very different ways, and through them, Annie starts to learn more about her mother and the tragic events surrounding her life.
But can Annie make a new life for herself in Dublin or will the ghosts of her past continue to haunt her? This may only a short novel, but it is beautifully written and captivated me instantly. Perfect for reading on a summer's evening.
Miss Chapter x