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thefourgraces

D E Stevenson was a very prolific writer, and although I have only read very few of her books, I get the impression from what I have read of her work elsewhere that the quality of her work varies considerably. The Four Graces is the fourth novel in the connected series of books which begins with ‘Miss Buncle’s Book’, the first three of which are published by Persephone books. I thoroughly enjoyed The Four Graces, it’s charming, a deeply comforting read which I happily gobbled up pretty quickly, but I wanted there to be more, and in that I think lies one of this novel’s minor flaws. The novel would have benefitted from being a little longer, and a couple of the characters more deftly explored. However, I shouldn’t start a review with a negative, and none of that prevents the novel – which cries out for re-issuing by Persephone – from being a really delightful read.

Miss Buncle fans be warned; this novel although starting where The Two Mrs Abbots left off – does not feature Barbara Abbot (nee Buncle) at all. The novel has been described as the fourth Miss Buncle book and a World War Two ‘Little Women’; I don’t think it is either of those things really.

The novel opens with the wedding of Archie Cobbe from Chevis Place, the big house at Chevis Green, who we met in The Two Mrs Abbots. The ceremony is conducted by the vicar Mr Grace, and the organist is one of his four daughters. The two Mrs Abbots – who we know so well, are in the congregation, and that is the only reference to them throughout the novel. Archie Cobbe and his bride Jane Watt only feature very slightly, as does Markie who readers may remember from that novel too, as the story is that of the Grace sisters.

“They had their supper in the kitchen because Joan had gone home and it was easier; and if anyone had seen the Graces sitting round the kitchen table enjoying their evening meal, he would have seen a pleasant sight. The girls talked about the wedding, of course, but their conversation wandered about a good deal and veered to and fro in a manner which a stranger would have found perfectly natural. Sometimes they disagreed with each other and said so, making no bones about it, but they were so much in tune and so fully in accord upon non-essentials. In fact a good hearty disagreement was welcome, adding spice to their talk. Now and then Liz would emit her sudden explosive snort of laughter, and Sal would chuckle delightedly.”

The sometimes vague vicar George Grace, is the head of a delightful, warm and supportive family, a family the reader can’t help but want to spend time with. The four Grace daughters are an endless trial and worry to the widowed Mr Grace, but also a great delight, their relationship is touchingly portrayed, their everyday routines, teases and family banter lend the whole novel a lovely, warm nostalgic air. Liz, the eldest, beautiful, and energetic, having nursed past heartbreaks, is spending these war years working on a nearby farm. Sal her father’s favourite, sensitive and delicate, is a capable determined young woman, on whom the whole family depend. Shy Tilly is the organist we meet in the opening pages; she likes being hidden behind the organ screen, shunning attention. Addie is the youngest daughter, she is also the most independent, and we see much less of her as she is in London, a W.A.A.F sharing a flat and only writing the occasional letter home. Stevenson devotes the majority of her novel to exploring the characters of Sal and Tilly, the story revolves mainly around them, although Liz comes to have a more significant role in the romantic storylines than I was expecting at the beginning.

Change is in the air, and the change that war inevitably brings to everyone, is heralded in this novel by the coming of visitors to the vicarage. Captain Roderick Herd stationed nearby becomes a frequent visitor at the vicarage, which of the sisters will he end up with? It is interesting how Tilly never feels entirely comfortable about Roddy, I wasn’t sure of him myself, that may be deliberate on D E Stevenson’s part, although that kind of ambiguity doesn’t entirely fit with the tone of the novel. Roddy is not as well fleshed out a character as I would have liked, which given that he is one of two ‘love interests’ in the book, is a small weak point. Into the happy informal Grace home comes Aunt Rona, a dreadful domineering, elegantly dressed, chattering presence from London, who upsets their routines and idle friendly companionship. Rona, a widow, has rather decided upon marrying Mr Grace, and his daughters are not sure is up to resisting her. The other long term visitor, who beats Rona to the better of the two spare bedrooms, is William Single, an awkwardly large archaeologist, who comes to lodge for the summer. William is a more rounded character than the mysterious seeming Roddy; he’s older, hugely likeable, quiet, wise and caring.

“Roderick looked small beside Mr Single; you could hardly hope to find two men more different in appearance, manner and personality. A St. Bernard dog and a terrier was the nearest comparison Tilly could find… and as a matter of fact Roderick was much more like a terrier than an eagle. Could you have brown terriers, wondered Tilly, as she shook hands with him. He sat down and accepted a cup of tea, and explained at some length that he happened to be coming in this direction and remembered that he had forgotten the umbrella. William Single had not disturbed the atmosphere of the room, but this man did. There was a sort of electricity in him thought Tilly.”

Stevenson, of course is very good at English village life, and with a fete at Chevis Place, village gossip, and rows over church flowers amid the interminable queuing for rations the inhabitants of Chevis Green and Wandlebury are affectionately portrayed. Two of the sisters are given what we can only assume are happy endings – although I do think there may be a bit of ambiguity here about one of them, and Aunt Rona is rather amusingly dealt with by Liz at the Chevis Place fete. Readers of The Two Mrs Abbotts can content themselves in the knowledge that Archie and Jane are happy, and although the world is on the brink of change, some things at least stay the same. Overall I enjoyed reading this novel enormously, and if not for those small flaws it would have been a definite five star read, nevertheless it is a satisfying, comforting read.

DE Stevenson

willacather reading week

Willa Cather was born on December 7th 1873 and grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She became known particularly for her novels of frontier life, featuring the Bohemian immigrants she had known growing up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, although the themes of her novels are not restricted to pioneer life. In 1922 she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel set during the First World War – One of Ours.

Willa Cather is now certainly regarded as one of the great American writers, a writer I re-connected with a couple of years ago, and I am now trying to read everything she wrote. I have read several of her novels already, have another five sitting here waiting to be read, but as yet have not read any of her short stories. A reading week therefore is just what I need to focus on reading some Cather, and share my enthusiasm for her work. I would love to get lots of people reading her novels and stories, talking about her and sharing thoughts about her books on blogs.

Novels
• Alexander’s Bridge (1912)
• O Pioneers! (1913)
• The Song of the Lark (1915)
• My Ántonia (1918)
• One of Ours (1922)
• A Lost Lady (1923)
• The Professor’s House (1925)
• My Mortal Enemy (1926)
• Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
• Shadows on the Rock (1931)
• Lucy Gayheart (1935)
• Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)

Collections
• April Twilights (1903, poetry)
• The Troll Garden (1905, short stories)
• Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920, short stories)
• Obscure Destinies (1932, three stories)
• Not Under Forty (1936, essays)
• The Old Beauty and Others (1948, three stories)
• Willa Cather: On Writing (1949, essays)
• Five Stories (1956, published by the Estate of Willa Cather)
• The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (published 2013)

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Please feel free to tweet/talk about and share the event on your blogs and I’d love to know if you’re thinking of joining in. Several of her books are available from Project Gutenberg, so expenditure isn’t even necessary :)

I haven’t decided yet which Willa Cather works I will be reading that week, and I may even warm up with some before then.

militaryphilosophers

The Military Philosophers is the ninth book in the Dance to the Music of time sequence which I started reading back in January – goodness only three left!

Having so loved the last instalment – The Soldier’s Art – one of my favourites of the whole sequence – I expected much of the same with this one. I certainly found the last third of the novel very enjoyable, as the war draws to a shuddering conclusion, but the first two thirds of this novel I found rather harder to get a handle on. Powell’s writing can be ambiguous with some events shrouded in a kind of fog, and in this novel I found this more than ever – it may well have just been me though. I did think however, that this confusion beautifully echoes the upheaval and exhaustion that must surely have been felt by people at this point in the war.

As the novel opens Nick is now a captain and working in military liaison, looking after the Polish contingent, he is based in London working under Pennistone and Finn who we met before. Living alone in a flat in Chelsea, his wife Isobel is not far away, and he is able to see her from time to time. His posting allows him to run into other familiar figures, notably Widmerpool and Sunny Farebrother. The past is an ever present reminder of how things used to be, and on a visit to Polish HQ Nick is brought up sharply when he realises he is at what was formerly the Ufford hotel, a favourite haunt of his Uncle Giles. I love the way Powell reminds us of the past, the past is always there, a part of the present and the future, very much a part of the dance.

“Like Finn’s aching jaw on the line of march, the war throbbed on, punctuated by interludes when more than once the wrong tooth seemed to have been hurriedly extracted.”

Nick is later promoted to the supervision of Belgians and Czechs, as the war rumbles on. The war has claimed its casualties, and when Stringham’s niece – the notorious Pamela Flitton appears on the arm of Odo Stevens; another familiar face – she brings news of her uncle missing in Singapore. As I have come to expect, and am no longer surprised by, old friends and enemies constantly appear and re-appear, moving in and out of one another’s lives as the years pass. Nick meeting Pamela Flitton and Odo Stevens while sheltering from a bomb, and both he and Uncle Giles’ friend Mrs Erdleigh, being witness later to their row, just one of a number of coincidences. Widmerpool’s ambition and self-satisfied attitude to his own position has now assumed quite monstrous proportions, and there is virtually nothing left of that rather pitiful awkward figure we first met in A Question of Upbringing.

Now finally a Major, Nick finds himself in a party of Military attaches touring Belgium and Normandy late in the war, when arrangements are made for Belgian resistance fighters to be trained back in England. Meeting up with Dupont again, as he seems to every few years, Nick hears news of Peter Templer.

But the war does end, and so does Powell’s war trilogy in the middle of the Dance to the Music of Time. What a confusion it must have been, all that discipline, bombing, restrictions suddenly over after six long years.

“Was this the promise of a better world? Perhaps one had reached that already and this was a celestial haberdashers’s. The place was not even at all crowded. Most of the customers, if that was what they ought to be called, looked about forty, demobilization groups taking precedence on points gained by age, length of service, period overseas and so on. We wandered around like men in a dream. As one moved from suits to shoes to socks and back again to suits, the face of a Gunner captain seemed familiar”

With the war finally drawing to a close, Widmerpool is improbably engaged to Pamela Flitton, a relationship Nick expects to end at any moment. A thanksgiving service is held at St. Paul’s Cathedral attended by the foreign attaches, Nick meets Colonel Flores wife, and fails to recognise her as Jean, who he once loved. As the novel ends, men, including Nick queue up to receive their demob clothes, there is a very definite feeling of something momentous having ended.

anthonypowell

bookcaseOh what to read next? I find it increasingly hard to choose – for a start I have so many – my physical to be read bookcase is groaning, but then my kindle is full of great titles too. Then there are the books I sometimes feel I should read, review copies (very few of those) book group reads, books for challenges – do rather get in the way of spontaneity.

When I am able to be spontaneous I find myself drawn more to one kind of book than another – old books – when I say old books I don’t necessarily mean the physical edition is old (though I do love aged tomes) but that the original publication date is probably pre 1960 – certainly pre 1980’s. I love old hardbacks with pretty dust jackets, but am just as happy with a lovely shiny new reprint, I adore Virago and Persephone I think that is well known, but I also love Vintage and Penguin classics, I may start collecting the Penguin Vintage crime greens too. Loving old books would be fine if I didn’t find myself drawn to buying/acquiring “new” books and not reading them. I so enjoy engaging with readers and bloggers here and on twitter and Facebook so it is very easy to hear about all sorts of exciting books.20140731_144148

New books I often simply download to my kindle, there is I’m afraid a bit of an instant gratification thing here – I read a fabulous review – and then clickety clickety click and it appears on my kindle as if by magic – unfortunately there they often stay for ages. Naturally this kindle book downloading all ties in with my book buying addiction, which I am dealing with (badly) – the free books from Project Gutenberg I don’t even count! However when I am picking my next book to read, my eye and my hand almost always reaches out toward an old book or reprint of an old book, or a Project Gutenberg book on my kindle – and those new books I paid real money for sit there. So I am addressing this, you might not have noticed, but for the last two or three months I have been making a concerted effort to get to at least two of the newer books from my tbr. This doesn’t actually mean I will be buying more new books – I buy far more old books in fact – but I am pledging to read the new books I already have. To me anything is new if it is published this century.
In August I read: The Lemon Grove (hideous stupid book) and Instructions for a Heatwave (excellent) and He Wants (brilliant) – review to be published next month on SNB.
In July I read Americanah (brilliant) and A Girl is a half formed thing (very mixed feelings)
In June I read The Last Kings of Sark, (very enjoyable), By a Slow River (very good) and A Song for Issy Bradley (very very good)

I am determined all these “new” books I have bought on a whim will be read. Thereafter I will be careful not to just buy books blindly that I am less likely to read. However maybe reading all my impulse buys will widen my horizons a little too.

So then I need recommendations for which of my new books to read next. I want to try and read at least six of them before New Year. Do I have any here I need to avoid? For instance – is The Cuckoo’s Calling – likely to be my kind of book?
On my Kindle I have:

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
The Bookstore – Deborah Meyler
The People in the Photo – Helen Gestern
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
We are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
Ghost Moon – Ron Butlin
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace – Kate Summerscale (non fiction)
Harvest – Jim Crace
A Lovesong for India – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Rook – Jane Rushbridge
Longbourn –Jo Baker

In my physical bookcase – there is:

Flight behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks
Peaches for Monsieur Le Curre – Joanne Harris
After such Kindness – Gaynor Arnold
(There are a few others I have almost certainly decided to cull and donate to bookcrossing – books bought at author signings – something I should have learned by now is often a mistake)

I also have three review copies of new books – which I am regarding out of the corner of my eye with some guilt – (I don’t really want to read them now – what do I do?)

*oh sigh* Help!

inthemountains

First published in 1920, In the Mountains was published anonymously to begin with, which seems a little odd, it is a very Von Arnim book (or so it appears to this non Von Arnim expert) and I am puzzled as to why it was deemed necessary.
In the Mountains was a joy of a read for me, not a huge amount happens in this little novel, everything is contained within the small cast of characters. There is though, a delightful calmness that infuses this delightful novel which sits beautifully alongside Von Arnim’s delicate wit. Narrated by an Englishwoman whose name we never learn, In the Mountains in written in the form of a journal. Taking place in the summer and autumn of 1919, the novel tells the story of the return of this Englishwoman to her Swiss mountain summer home, the home she left in 1914 and has not seen since. We know virtually nothing about this woman, except that in 1914 she left as part of a “we” and returns very much as I. Before the war, from which the narrator comes to be healed, the house had been filled with people, visited by friends, a place of laughter, now it is peace and solitude its inhabitant particularly craves.
During her absence the house continued to be cared for by Antoine, who is now married, and he and Mrs Antoine continue to care for the property, to feed their employer allowing her the peace and space she so obviously needs.

“If only I don’t think – if only I don’t think and remember – how can I not get well again here in the beauty and the gentleness? There’s all next month and September, and perhaps October too may be warm and golden. After that I must go back, because the weather in this high place while it is changing from the calms of autumn to the calm of the exquisite alpine winter is a disagreeable, daunting thing. But I have two whole months perhaps three. Surely I’ll be stronger, tougher, by then? Surely I’ll at least be better? I couldn’t face the winter in London if this desperate darkness and distrust of life is still in my soul”

Whatever her experiences and particular grieves incurred by the war were, we only know that she needs to be healed, and to do so she has returned to her beloved mountain, the paths and landscape of which she knows so well.

“At night the bottom of the valley looks like water, and the lamps in the little town lying along it like quivering reflections of the stars.”

swissmountainsAfter a few weeks, our unnamed narrator begins to feel the place is having an effect she starts to take an interest again in her books, delights in the beauty of her surroundings, and feel as if she might rather like someone (other than the Antoines) to talk to. Her wish is soon granted when two Englishwomen dressed in black appear outside her house, having walked up the mountain from where they are staying in the valley. The tone of the novel changes slightly at this point, the quietness and introspection of the first part of the novel replaced by the slight mystery which surrounds these two women.

The women are widowed sisters, Mrs (kitty) Barnes and Mrs (Dolly) Jewkes, who have been in Switzerland for some time, but who are finding the heat of the valley unbearable. The diarist invites them to stay, and they so they do for the next couple of months. Mrs Barnes is a kind, slightly reserved woman, rather managing, but devoted to her younger sister for Dolly has a secret, that her sister seeks to force her to keep. Kitty’s worries about Dolly dominate her thoughts and the way she deals with her generous hostess. Kitty tries not to leave Dolly alone with our diarist, but Dolly is irrepressible and sociable and the diarist is drawn to her endearing nature immediately. Dolly’s secret is a fairly innocent one (although one which in the climate of 1919 would have been of some small concern to some) but poor Kitty has been driven to distraction by the weight of it. Our intelligent narrator is quick to discover Dolly’s secret, but wise enough to shield her knowledge from Kitty. The two sisters have had some difficult years, years of exile and wandering, of loneliness with just each other for company. The three women are soon joined by a man, the diarist’s uncle, a lonely, widowed dean of the Church of England who has journeyed to Switzerland to bring his niece home. Just as the reader can’t help but be,the dean is enchanted by Dolly, and the diarist sees that if her uncle and Dolly were left alone long enough to settle matters – then both the sisters’ problems and her uncle’s loneliness would be at an end.

I have been reading quite a lot of books for the Great War theme read – the list of book were put together by members of the Librarything Virago group, and this book is on the list for September and October’s theme of the consequences of war. The war is only referred to as having taken place – the diarist returned to her Mountain home to heal herself, but never does she talk about what she actually experienced. Still, I loved reading it, and it has put me in the mood for a lot more Elizabeth Von Arnim, who I have read scandalously little of.

EvA

summer crossing 2

Summer Crossing was Truman Capote’s first novel, written in the 1940’s it was believed to have been lost – Capote had claimed to have destroyed the manuscript – however it was discovered in 2004 and published the following year. In an afterward to my edition, Capote’s friend and lawyer, Alan L Schwartz explains how the novel came to be discovered and published, explaining how he had to wrestle over the decision whether to publish the novel Capote had cast aside or not. Schwartz’s story in itself is an interesting one, and I am sure the majority of Capote fans must be glad he did publish.

The interest for Capote readers I suppose lies mainly in this being Capote’s first novel. The reader cannot expect A Summer Crossing to have the same classic quality as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or the unforgettable brilliance of In Cold Blood, however Capote’s prose still shines, he was an exceptional writer, and in Grady McNeil we perhaps have the beginnings of the character who would later become Holly Golightly herself.

“Hot weather opens the skull of a city, exposing its white brain, and its heart of nerves, which sizzle like the wires inside a lightbulb. And there exudes a sour extra-human smell that makes the very stone seem flesh-alive, webbed and pulsing.”

Set in New York during the hot summer of 1945, Summer Crossing tells the story of Grady McNeil the seventeen year old daughter of a highly privileged prosperous family from the upper echelons of New York society. Named for the baby brother who died before she was born, Grady is beautiful, spoilt and defiant. Refusing to join her parents on their annual foreign travels, Grady is left behind in the family’s New York apartment.

summercrossingTaking advantage of her parent’s absence Grady seeks to fulfil the excitement that she craves outside of her conventional family. Several months earlier Grady had met a Jewish parking attendant Clyde Manzer, with who she’s now quick to embark upon a secret affair. In the background is the nice, handsome Peter Bell, a good friend and possible suitor, socially he is much more suitable. For Grady, Clyde represents everything her family would disapprove of, as the summer continues their romance heats up, with Grady bringing Clyde to the family penthouse in what feels like an act of particular defiance.

“He loved her, he loved her, and until he’d loved her she had never minded being alone, she’d liked too much to be alone. At school, where all the girls had crushes on one another and trailed in sweetheart pairs, she had kept to herself: except once, and that was when she’d allowed Naomi to adore her. Naomi, scholarly, and bourgeois as a napkin ring, had written her passionate poems that really rhymed, and once she’d let Naomi kiss her on the lips. But she had not loved her: it is very seldom that a person loves anyone they cannot in some way envy: she could not envy any girl, only men: and so Naomi became mislaid in her thoughts, then lost, like an old letter, one which had never been carefully read.”

Travelling to New Jersey the couple marry, suddenly and with what appears to be little thought. Caught up in this heady, deeply unwise relationship Grady is too young to realise the enormity of her rash act. Meeting Clyde’s family in Brooklyn however, Grady is faced with the reality of their social inequality. Grady leaves Clyde behind in the city while she visits her elder sister Apple in East Hampton, here she reveals her marriage and early pregnancy to her appalled sister, just before Clyde turns up to claim his wife.

In true Truman Capote fashion, things do take a rather darker turn, at the conclusion of this slight novel, I was expecting something of the kind, but I was still quite shocked. Summer Crossing certainly has that wonderful sense of place that I have come to associate with Capote’s writing, and I enjoyed and engaged with the novel. As a first novel, cast aside more than fifty years ago, it shows so much of what was to come. I am so pleased that I rounded off my August reading of Capote with this novel,(yes I am still reviewing August’s books) it is certainly worth exploring if you are a fan of his work.

capote

pomfret towers
Unashamedly cosy alert! Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels are beloved of many readers, for their humour and charm, Virago have been re-issuing them a few at a time, with these rather delicious looking covers. I now have the next three waiting for me, as I felt I needed them to look forward to.

Alice Barton the painfully shy and rather gauche, daughter of successful historical writer Susan Barton and her architect husband, is terrified at the idea of a weekend country house party at Pomfret Towers, the home of the irascible Lord Pomfret. Having grown up sickly and sheltered there is an awful lot that frightens Alice; the complicated matter of tipping maids and talking to butlers, lively dogs, being induced to speak in front of strangers, just some of them. Despite the invitation to Pomfret Towers including Alice’s older brother Guy, and their good friends, brother and sister, Sally and Roddy Wicklow, Roddy – who already works for the estate – an ever comforting presence to Alice, she is still daunted at the prospect.

The earl is a crusty old so and so, set in his ways but eager to please his wife, whose idea it was to have the weekend party. Angela Thirkell’s characters are wonderful, some of them endearing, some hilariously exasperating. The other main players are; the reluctant Pomfret heir shy, genial Giles Foster, the Rivers family, cousins by marriage of the Earl; they strident writer of travel romances, and her lovely daughter Phoebe, and her selfish artist son Julian. Mrs Rivers is a marvellous creation, referred to by her on publishers as the Baedeker bitch, she writes novels about middle aged women who go to exotic locations to find themselves and meet younger men are tempted, but ultimately return to their husbands reputation intact.

“I once looked at one.’ Lady Pomfret continued, ‘about people in Rome. A woman with a grown up son who lets herself have a kind of affair with a young American writer. When the characters spoke Italian it was not very correct. Of course the heroine was meant to be herself, but that was so foolish. Everyone knows that although she has made her husband’s – Lord Pomfret’s cousin you know- life a perfect burden by her airs, she is a most faithful wife. In fact I don’t think any man has ever looked at her, so she has hardly had much chance.’

Luckily things get off to a really good start when Alice is immediately taken care of by Phoebe Rivers, her lost parcel retrieved by Giles Foster. So finding a blessed bath in the corner of her room, meaning she won’t have to run the gauntlet of trips to the bathroom in a house full of strangers, puts Alice further at ease. The redoubtable Mrs Rivers meanwhile, – who has even arranged for her publisher Mr Johns to be invited so she can bend his poor ear remorsefully, – is determined to marry her daughter Phoebe to Giles. The two cousins have already decided, that friends though they are, spouses they will never be. Alice still has to contend with dinner, talk of hunting and hounds and the alarming red faced man and the strange shrieking girl, but she soon realises that in Phoebe, Giles and Roddy she has allies in abundance. On her first evening Alice is sat between Giles Foster and Julian Rivers during dinner, one look at Julian is enough for the tender young Alice to be smitten. As the weekend continues poor Alice is incapable of seeing Julian as he really is, self-centred and rather stupid, much to the despair of Roddy and Guy.

“Your sister was very kind to me,’ she said,
‘Oh, she’s all right,’ said Julian Rivers, adding, ‘I could make a picture of you, you know. I was looking at you in the drawing-room before dinner. Your face is all out of drawing, and I like that purple tint under your jawbone, and there’s a splendid green bit under you’re your eyes. God! how I could put in your nose with my thumb. I must do it.”

The scene is therefore set for plenty of 1930’s country house fun, with friendships and alliances being formed, and Alice slowly gaining in confidence. Incidently for readers of Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles – there are some great little references slotted in that are fun to spot.

The old earl consults Mr Johns, in his own inimitable fashion, announcing his wish to publish his memoirs. Mrs Rivers trying to organise the house party her way keeps her beady eye on the friendship developing between Giles and Alice, as well as Alice and her son. Meanwhile Phoebe remains determined she will do anything to avoid her mother’s matrimonial plans. Dog loving, countrywoman Sally Wicklow is able to assist Giles in his plans for the estate, the future responsibility of which so overwhelms him. As the weekend comes to an end, the Rivers are staying on for a while, but Alice, Guy and the Wicklows head home, Alice enchanted with the idea that Julian wants to paint her, and Guy seeming to be a little smitten himself.

Angela Thirkell maybe shouldn’t be taken too seriously, these are the kind of books to curl up following a tiring day, a mug of tea and a plateful of crumpets at your side. They are witty, comforting and deeply charming, and I for one don’t think there is much wrong with any of that. Who will end up with whom? The nice thing about Angela Thirkell is that the reader is fairly sure of at least one happy ending.

angela thirkell

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