(Maureen) Mollie Hunter (McIlwraith)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

A certain simplicity of explanation, an occasional withholding of details—what the heroine's father died of, for instance—identify [A Sound of Chariots] as a work for children. And Mollie Hunter is, of course, an accomplished writer of children's books…. [Her books] are heavily plotted and detailed, with a clear, unobtrusive style and a sure sense of storytelling. But A Sound of Chariots is a remarkable departure. It seems clearly to be her own story, and while she sustains the narrative at a level comprehensible to children, the writing is dense with lush language and startling, impressionistic passages of discovery and meditation. What's more … she writes a story that traces the gradual evolution of its heroine, Bridie McShane, from early childhood to young womanhood. And without ignoring the problems and the sense of alienation of adolescence, she places them in a framework of a life, of generations. Hunter offers her reader a sense that there are underlying structures to a life, and that adulthood can be something other than a descent into contemptible compromise, that it can bring with it a sense of competence, grace, and power.

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Fortunately, even though the heroine plans to be a writer, the novel is not written in the first person. In the world of A Sound of Chariots, children would not make their voices heard that way. Moreover, Hunter is much too attached to the elegant and rhythmic use of language to limit herself by assuming a voice with less range and maturity than her own. For the progress of the novel is marked by intense, meditative moments of revelation, recorded in baroque swells of prose that describe Bridie's insights and her sometimes frightening epiphanies. When she gains a sudden awareness of the nature of death, for example, she feels the blood coursing through her with the passing of each second, and she understands how each second brings her closer to her own end…. (pp. 92-3)

This awareness grows from the central event in the novel, which is the death of Bridie's father, Patrick McShane. His death divides the book into its two parts. The first part opens with his funeral, flashes back to Bridie's life with him, and then closes again with the same scene—the limousine pulling up in front of the house and Bridie's mother getting out of the car. It is an effective structural device, because in the interim between the first scene and its repetition, the reader comes to know the father and to share Bridie's pain at her loss. The second part of the book records Bridie's response and adaptation over the next four years. (pp. 93-4)

The uniqueness and authenticity of A Sound of Chariots may stem from the fact that it is autobiographical. Absolutely uncontrived, it captures the mind of a young adolescent the way few adolescent novels do. (p. 96)

Geraldine DeLuca, "Unself-Conscious Voices: Larger Contexts for Adolescents," in The Lion and the Unicorn (copyright © 1978 The Lion and the Unicorn), Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall, 1978, pp. 89-108.∗

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