This novel from the author of I Capture the Castle is an absolute joy. There is something of the fairy-tale about it – although it is more heart-warming than frothy.
It is the early 1960’s and Jane Minton a thirty something single woman arrives at Dome house to begin a new job. The job is that of secretary/housekeeper to Rupert Carrington. On arrival Jane finds that Mr Carrington is absent – but she is welcomed heartily by his four children all in their early twenties or teens – and the two elderly sisters who work for the family. That first evening is a wonderful start for Jane, warm, well fed, settled as one of the family in front of the television – she is certain that Dome house is a place she’ll never want to leave. The following day however everything is thrown in to disarray – when Rupert Carrington suspected of fraud flees the country. Jane has to find a way to help the Carrington family live – immediately there are strict economies that have to be made and the elder Carrington children need to start to think about employment.
The narrative switches from character to character as we follow the eccentric ways they find to fly the nest and start to make their ways in the world. There is Merry- 14 and a half – who wants to be an actress, Drew who has aspirations to be a writer, Richard the musician and Clare a painter with little talent, whose only ambition is to be the mistress of a king.
Merry runs away to London disguised as someone much older – she doesn’t quite make it to London – but ends up in another equally eccentric household. Drew applies to become an elderly woman’s companion, and ends up totally reorganising her life. Clare finds her job as a reader to an elderly man in London has an unexpectedly romantic twist. Richard meanwhile tries to keep Dome house going, while coping with the arrival of the dreaded Aunt Winifred and his father’s ex-girlfriend who has also landed on him unexpectedly. Jane holds them all together admirably while working as secretary to the headmistress of Merry’s old school.
I was reminded strongly of I capture the castle while reading this – in the voices of the characters particularly. It is an enormously charming novel, humorous and engaging it’s fabulous for curling up with for long periods. I enjoyed it immensely.