When Joanna Drayton, at the age of eleven, is abandoned without warning by her beloved governess, Miss Cathcart, and sent away from her home on the Welsh border to boarding school, she is baffled and miserable. Her adored older brother, James, seems to forget her existence, and her grandmother, her last hope, betrays her. Seven years later, Joanna, now a promising pianist and a half-hearted debutante about to be launched on her first London season, is better able to handle the conflicting demands placed upon her by her estranged parents, but she still feels, in her own words, like a message center in the midst of “armed outposts,” decoding with difficulty the information sent to her. It is only when her father dies that she begins to understand the forces that resulted in the abandonment which shaped her life.
Dawkins’ first novel, NATIVES AND STRANGERS, described the life of a child in West Africa who was forever at the mercy of her parents’ whims and grew up surrounded by political chaos and vast social change. CHASING SHADOWS has a narrower focus and a less exotic setting, but it too is the story of a survivor. Like the student of an alien culture, the child of warring parents is forced to interpret the actions which surround her according to her own capacities and needs. Isolated by the self-absorption of adults, she must gather on her own the clues and hints that will enable her to understand the past, endure the present, and manipulate the future.
CHASING SHADOWS is an affecting work. Dawkins brings to a familiar subject a distinctive point of view and a supple, expressive prose style.