Streatfield, Noel. Far to Go. First published 1986.
Far to GoMargaret Thursday, as heroines go, is perhaps not the most typical young woman ever to live in lines of ink. An orphan with a harrowing back story whose theatrical skills are in high demand, she is at once both infuriating and fascinating. Streatfield's Far to Go begins with her escape from a touring show in which young Margaret has played the role of Little Lord Fauntleroy, and continues with her introduction to the London stage (and, in the process, bits of the London underworld, where a few shady individuals still recognise her as a hapless orphan). The novel moves quickly, and the story is entertaining, but Streatfield seems to focus more on details (Margaret's lace-trimmed pantaloons, and the days upon which they are to be worn, are a frequent source of contention between the little girl and her guardian) than on character development, and although Margaret has a very exciting life and meets some very interesting individuals during the course of the book, there is little to remember fondly when the volume has closed. Even as I was thrilled to see Posy Fossil reappear in The Painted Garden, I would be less interested in finding Margaret Thursday in another Streatfield novel.
Despite its limited character development, Far to Go is still a fun and fast read. Margaret's rehearsals, and her growing understanding of the complexity, flexibility, and dedication required of an actress, offer an entertaining look at the London theatre of yore. Her encounter with her past is exciting, and the book is full of adventures. For a younger reader with a little more imagination than I, her character's shortcomings might provide the space for a fully-fleshed-out literary friend, with whom a younger reader can enjoy Margaret's own adventures. Though it discusses some weighty issues, such as child labor and kidnapping, the novel is clean and fairly non-graphic when it comes to these points, and it could be safely enjoyed by most children over eight or nine years of age. For Streatfield fans, it provides a fresh departure from some of his other, perhaps more wonderful, but also more typical, works of literature.