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With thanks to the publishers for the review copy

I’ve been looking forward to trying the mysteries of E.C.R Lorac, her books have been reviewed very enthusiastically by lots of bloggers. I have a couple more Lorac tbr and anticipate them eagerly now. This Devon set mystery was a treat. A small, fairly isolated community is always a good setting for a murder story, and in this novel Lorac has created just such a community, steeped in secrets.

E.C.R Lorac was the pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett, she was a prolific writer of crime between the 1930s and 50s – and several of her novels are back in print thanks to the British Library. Murder in the Mill-Race first published in 1952 and shows real assurance in the plotting and characterisation.

Dr Raymond Ferens and his wife Anne; tired of the depressing slums, preventable disease and dirt of Northern city life, take the opportunity to swap life in a Staffordshire mill town for that of a Devonshire village on Exmoor. Raymond’s own poor health, the result of a Japanese prison of war camp, the reason for the change. In Milham in the Moor an elderly doctor is retiring, and Raymond decides to take over the practice, which is widely spread out over a large, sparsely populated area, but which should nevertheless make for an easier life.  Dr Brown will be staying in his own house, still overseeing the care of the children at a local children’s home; Gramarye. So, Raymond eventually agrees terms with Lady Ridding – a wily old aristocrat who drives a hard bargain – for he and Anne to take over part of the Dower House within the grounds of The Manor House. The Dower house is beautiful, and Anne falls in love with it instantly, it does seem as if she and Ray will be living their dream life.

Soon after their arrival in Milham in the Moor the Ferens begin to see that beneath the rural charm of their new surroundings there is also malice and hatred. The first indication of malign feelings comes almost immediately after the couple move in. They have already heard a good deal about Sister Monica – the warden of Gramarye – whose goodness everyone talks about as being something close to saintliness. When Sister Monica appears at the Dower house, walking through an open door while the Ferens are deep in conversation (Anne suspects her of listening) Anne is immediately convinced that she is wholly bad.

“Anne jumped up and ran across the room. The drawing-room, where they sat, faced south, as did the front-door which stood wide open to the sunshine. Glancing through the open door of the drawing-room, Anne had been aware of a shadow in the wide entrance hall beyond. When she reached the hall she had to choke back an exclamation of astonishment. In the doorway, silhouetted against the sunlight, stood a figure so tall and dark and unexpected that Anne had a sudden qualm of discomfort, a sense that she was facing something unreal and utterly unlike anything she had ever known.”

Following an uncomfortable tea-time at Gramarye where Anne witnesses the unnatural silence of small children who have been trained to act like tiny automatons – Anne is even more horrified by the woman who in her heart she has already decided is wicked. Gramarye has been run for thirty years by Sister Monica who makes sure everything runs to her exacting and often eccentric standards, she is assisted by two old retainers; Mrs Higson and Hannah, who both declare Sister Monica to be wonderful – but is she?

“Gramarye smelt of floor polish and carbolic and soap: something of the unwelcoming smell of an institution, but behind the overlay of modern cleanliness, the smell of the ancient house declared itself, of old mortar, of stone walls built without damp courses, of woodwork decaying under coats of paint, of panelling and floor boards which gave out their ancient breath as the coldness of the stone house triumphed over the warmth of the midsummer evening.”

Ray doesn’t like the woman any more than his wife does – but in his new position is unwilling to indulge in gossip or speculation.  The Ferens have heard that a year before they arrived in the village a young woman drowned in the Mill-Race – she had been working at Gramarye – sent there to work from elsewhere, known as a bad girl. John Sanderson, the bailiff found her body.

A few months after the Ferens arrival – another body is found in the Mill-race – Sister Monica appears to have been knocked on the back of her head before falling into the water. Sergeant Peel has the thankless task of unravelling the truth – but with everyone talking of Sister Monica in hushed tones as if she really were a saint and no one really telling him anything – the villagers keen to keep their secrets, it isn’t long before Scotland Yard are brought into the affair – and Chief Inspector Macdonald is sent to investigate.

Macdonald is sensible, no nonsense detective who Lorac first wrote about in the 1930s. I like policeman like Chief Inspector Macdonald – no frills detectives who are utterly believable, a safe pair of hands.

Murder in the Mill-Race is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a satisfying conclusion.

Translated by Faith Evans

Marie by Madeleine Bourdouxhe is a short, beautifully written novella about a woman’s passion for life. In this novella, Bourdouxhe subtly combines, tenderness, humour and sensuality in her exploration of a woman’s experience of life.  

I first read Madeleine Bourdouxhe three years ago, her novel La Femme de Gilles is brilliant, but it’s also a moodier less hopeful novel than Marie – which is much brighter and optimistic, focusing as it does on a woman’s love of life. Marie is a novella that sparkles from the start, a novel about love, sensuality and passion, the central character a realistic creation, who we may not entirely approve of but can’t entirely stop ourselves from liking. A woman who takes a lover and in doing so discovers a whole new liberation for herself.

Our eponymous heroine is a thirty year-old woman married to Jean – who she loves, they live together in Paris, Marie loves Paris – just as she loves many inanimate objects in her life. She loves the light on the sea she can see while on holiday with her husband, the hotel balcony, a boat, a cigarette. Objects appear to have great importance to Marie – and she has a relationship of sorts with those she sees as important.

“However completely people might fulfil themselves in other spheres, if they don’t possess this understanding between their hands and material objects, they can never have more than an incomplete understanding of the world.”

 She is a woman’s whose inner life is full of quiet unexpressed enthusiasms which she likes to think about on her own. While she loves her husband, she is entirely separate from him, we experience them as two individuals rather than the unit that many couples are.     

As the novel opens, Marie and Jean are on holiday on the Côte d’Azur, in the sultry heat of an afternoon while taking a walk with Jean, Marie notices a beautiful young man lying on the beach, they exchange a meaningful look. It seems from here that there is no turning back for Marie – the die is cast for Marie and the unnamed young man. Later, Marie ensures she meets the young man again, just the sight of him, suntanned, muscled and carefree has awoken something in Marie. Bourdouxhe, explores Marie’s burgeoning new sensuality with an honesty and understanding, here is a woman in need of waking up she seems to be saying.

Once back in Paris Marie and Jean settle back into their normal routine, but it’s not long before Marie has arranged to meet the young man from the beach.

“She looked at his town clothes, at the buttoned-up collar of his blue cotton shirt, at the dark, red-striped tie. There was the uncertain, unreal world of the holiday, which she had known, and there was the everyday life about which she knew nothing whatsoever. A daily life, full of signs, that he has only recently left in order to come to her.”

Jean is completely unaware of what is happening in Marie’s life. One day he tells Marie that his job is likely to take him away to Maubeuge for time, and despite the fact that she dreads leaving her beloved Paris, Marie agrees to go with him to a town she knows already she dislikes. Immediately she begins to plan for short periods when she can escape to Paris for a day or two – where she will continue to give lessons to some of her private pupils – and meet her lover.

“They went up in a very narrow elevator where there was only room for two bodies face to face. Young maids in canvas pinafores, organdie bows in their hair, bright red lips in inscrutable faces, slip like spirits through the deserted corridors, respecting the anonymity, the secrets of every soul, and folding up quilts with vestal movements. Muffled sounds, orders given in low voices, words that turn into mysteries, doors that shut without a sound. The peace and safety of a temple, with all the solemn, human poetry of a lodging house.” 

In Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s earlier novel, La Femme des Gilles, the relationship between two sisters is pivotal to the tragedy that ensues. Marie also has a sister – and their relationship is also complex – though less destructive. With her newfound confidence and newly awakened view of her world, Marie has begun to feel more critical of her chaotic sister, who is much less happy than Marie. Marie loves her sister Claudine – and rushes to her side when she is needed – but she is also often furious with her.

I loved this beautiful little novel which has a rather delicious dreamlike quality to it. I now have A Nail, A Rose; a little collection of Bourdouxhe’s short stories to look forward to reading in August for Women in Translation month.

I took a short break from my #20booksofsummer pile in order to read Women’s Prize winner An American Marriage, for my book group who meet on Wednesday evening.

It’s easy to see why this won, with a deceptive lightness of touch Tayari Jones explores matters of justice, gender and relationships within the black American middle classes. It also happens to be a hugely compelling read, beautifully written.

Those of us who regularly use social media will have seen plenty of harrowing accounts of black Americans facing terrifying injustices that their white counterparts just don’t experience. Let’s not pretend that everything is fine in the UK – it isn’t – but this is a novel about the injustice metered out to a young black man in contemporary America. It’s a story frighteningly reminiscent of the stories that pop up on our Twitter timelines all too frequently – it’s a credible story of how a life can undeservedly fall apart.

What would it be like to live in a society where everything can be taken away so easily? That is the reality for many black Americans in the US today. Tayari Jones shows us how when someone has been convicted and incarcerated for a crime they didn’t commit – it is far more than their freedom that gets taken away. We can’t undo the things that happen to us – all of us are products of the things that happen to us – it isn’t possible to go back to the time before – that’s what is so devastating.  

“Atlanta is where I learned the rules and learned them quick. No one ever called me stupid. But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”

An American Marriage tells the story of Roy Hamilton and his wife Celestial. Roy was brought up in a good family in Louisiana, but later moves to Atlanta. Now he is going places, he isn’t perfect, but he is very likeable, and he loves Celestial. He has a good job and has married into a wealthy family. Celestial is his dream woman; she has ambitions too – she makes dolls and sells them for a lot of money. Eighteen months into their marriage, the young couple take a trip back to Louisiana to visit Roy’s parents – though they elect to stay at a nearby motel rather than in the bedroom next to Big Roy and Olive. With such small decisions can a whole lifetime be changed. In the early hours of the morning the police burst into their room, Roy is charged with raping a woman in another motel room. Roy is convicted, sentenced to twelve years – everything changes.

“Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place for itself in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again.”

The first part of the book is told alternately from Roy and Celstial’s point of view – we see them in their young love, their hope for the future and then, later their despair. In letters they write to one another following Roy’s conviction we begin to see the subtle changes that this momentous injustice has upon their relationships.

“I’m alone in a way that’s more than the fact that I am the only living person within these walls. Up until now, I thought I knew what was and wasn’t possible. Maybe that’s what innocence is, having no way to predict the pain of the future. When something happens that eclipses the imaginable, it changes a person. It’s like the difference between a raw egg and a scrambled egg. It’s the same thing, but it’s not the same at all. That’s the best way I can put it. I look in the mirror and I know it’s me, but I can’t quite recognize myself.”

Celestial’s father continues to pay for a lawyer to fight for Roy, but these things take time – meanwhile Celestial develops her doll making business. She relies heavily on the support and friendship of Andre – Andre is a friend of both Roy and Celestial now, but it was Celestial he grew up with, they have been close since they were babies. It is inevitable that things change, Roy is stuck, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, years go by, and everyone else is moving on. Roy’s fear of these changes, his desperation to hold on to what is slipping away is palpable. The story is now told from three points of view – with Andre getting in on the act.

In prison Roy makes a surprising discovery, a story strand which allows Jones to explore the pressures of expectation for the American male, fatherhood and what it means to be a man in today’s America.

Jones shows us poignantly that nothing is simple – nothing can ever just go back to how it was, and a great wrong is not so easily put right.

In An American Marriage, Jones has written an extraordinary novel that is many things all at once; an honest portrayal of American injustice an exploration of gender roles, as well as being a moving and compelling story of a family. Every character is exceptionally well drawn, the slow, southern drawl of their voices warm and intimate draw the reader in instantly. It was a book I could barely put down.

Tales from tbr

I haven’t done one of these posts for a while and as usual I do have some new books to tell you about.

I’m quite pleased with how I have been doing with my #20booksofsummer, some of them haven’t quite hit the spot, but I do have high hopes for the rest with some lovely Persephone and VMCs still on the pile. I am currently reading my ninth – having taken a short break to read my book group book. So, by the end of the weekend I should be into my tenth. I will probably take a couple of more breaks from 20booksofsummer in my attempt to read the whole pile without resorting to swaps in the allotted time – sticking to my list and not getting distracted is always the challenge for me. How’s everyone else doing?

Some of the books that have come into my life don’t feel all that new anymore, some of them came in over a month ago. So many lovely books waiting to be read and yet I appear to be reading quite slowly this year – in terms of numbers I’m definitely behind where I was this time last year – and probably the year before, but I don’t really worry about numbers, it just means I don’t get to things as quickly as I would like to. If I was that bothered about numbers, I would just read thin books for the rest of the year – and yet I have deliberately put some biggish ones on my summer reading pile – I’m keeping them for when I have finished work for the summer and have more time though. So looking forward to reading more over the summer – although I never do read as much as I think I’m going to.

Some lovely review copies have come in – and as ever I am very grateful for those.

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs (1964), Deep Waters Edited by Martin Edwards (2019) and Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R Lorac (1952)from the British Library Crime Classics, all look delicious. I have heard so many good things about E.C.R Lorac from other bloggers, and I’ve had Bats in the Belfry tbr for ages – it’s definitely time I read her.

A Nail, a Rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe (1944) is a collection of stories from Pushkin Press – they do produce beautiful little editions, I am saving this collection for #witmonth. Coincidentally, I am currently reading Marie by this author – beautiful, thoughtful writing it’s lovely her books are now available in English.

Adrift in the Middle Kingdom by Dutch author J Slauerhoff (1934) is a new translation to be re-issued by Handheld Press at the beginning of August. The story of an Irish ship’s radio operator who jumps ships and travels through China in the 1920s.

Dean Street press have more Furrowed Middlebrow titles coming out soon and to be honest they all look amazing. I was sent ebook editions of Spam Tomorrow by Verily Anderson (1956) and The House Opposite by Barbara Noble (1943) – I am so looking forward to reading them, I just need to find time to slot them in.

Speaking of Dean Street Press, you may remember I recently read and reviewed Henry by Elizabeth Eliot (1950)– which prompted me to buy Cecil (1962)– the only one of the four Elizabeth Eliot books re-issued by Dean Street Press I hadn’t bought already. In my enthusiasm I seem to have clicked twice or something – and I ended up with two copies. The spare has found a new home with Liz. I’m sure she will love it.

I bought Women’s Prize winner; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018) on kindle to read for my book group I’ve already finished reading it and my book group meet on Wednesday night to discuss it. My review in a couple of days, but I really enjoyed it. Definitely a book I am looking forward to talking about.

I’ve had a book token burning a hole in my pocket for the last two months, and I finally spent it today. I bought:

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (2019) – which I have seen so much love for on blogs and social media. I stood in Waterstones having a little flick/read through the opening paragraphs – and decided I had to have it.

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood (2013)– I assume that Margaret Atwood reading month is happening again in November, I really hope so. I do have a couple of other things on my tbr which I could read – Hagseed and a new edition of Cat’s Eye which I have wanted to re-read for ages – but having read books one and two of The Maddaddam trilogy (and forced them on my sister, she really liked book one, not sure she’s read book two yet) it felt like time I got hold of the third.

So, what about you? Any good books come into your house?

They say, not to judge a book by the cover – well I did, and yet again a modern novel fell flat. A bright orange cover, with a woman in fifties dress looking out into the sun – and the promise of something reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, I got sucked in. Tangerine by Christine Mangan is not terrible, it’s very readable, generally well written and quite a page turner in places, and towards the end of last week I felt in need of an easy escapist read, so it kind of fitted the bill. Yet still I was vaguely dissatisfied with it throughout. This should tell me to stick to vintage fiction and modern classics, however as I mentioned in my last post my #20booksofsummer pile is made of quite a few modern novels – and so I persevere.  

“Everything changes, sooner or later. Time moves along, without constraints—no matter how hard one may attempt to pause, to alter, to rewrite it.” 

The novel opens with a short prologue an unnamed woman sits by a window in Spain, remembering a time in Tangier. Cared for by nurses, it is at night-time that she has time to think about the past.

The rest of the novel is set in Tangier in 1956 – we know it’s 1956 because it says so on a page before the start of chapter 1. There is very little in the way of period detail except a few references to political unrest among locals seeking independence from Spain. The sense of place is stronger though – dark narrow streets, local women adorned in bright colours, crowded markets, cafes serving mint tea – the blazing Moroccan sun.

Alice Shipley has come to Tangier with her new husband John, she is very young, and her marriage came about quickly following hard on the heels of a terrible accident at the private American college she had attended for several years. She hasn’t adjusted to life in Morocco well at all, while her husband is out and about all day everyday Alice hides away inside their flat. Too nervous to go out into the crowded medinas, shutting herself away from the oppressive heat. Her marriage is not a big success and Alice isn’t happy.

So, the last person Alice expects to find knocking on her door is Lucy Mason, who she had shared a room with at Bennington college. Alice and Lucy haven’t spoken for over a year – since the accident, which left Alice fragile, with only the haziest, confused memories of that night.

“Whatever symbiosis existed between us was real, tangible, and now, without her presence I could feel the absence of it, as if she were an extension of my own person. She was, I realized, that awful, wretched part of me that should be locked away and boarded up forever – like Jane’s madwoman in the attic. She was the unfiltered version, the rawness that no one should ever see. She was every wicked thought, every forbidden desire turned real and visceral.”

There is immediately a slight tension between the two, but Lucy is delighted to be back with her old friend and so Alice invites her to stay at the flat. Lucy is fearless and confident she embraces Tangier as soon as she arrives and encourages Alice to get out of the flat and explore a little more of the country she has been living in for months.

“Tangier and Lucy were the same, I thought. Both unsolvable riddles that refused to leave me in peace. And I had tired of it – of the not knowing, of always feeling as though I were on the outside of things, just on the periphery.” 

Soon though a familiar feeling starts to creep over Alice, she has begun to feel controlled by Lucy – more stifled now than she ever was before. Memories of Bennington haunt her – and Alice starts to get flash backs of the accident. Then Alice’s husband goes missing.

The story is told in two first person narratives, alternating between Alice and Lucy. Despite the fact that each woman is a very different character – their voices are almost identical – and given that one is American, and one British there really should have been more distinction. Gradually, we learn more about what happened during the years Alice and Lucy were together at Bennington, which ended so abruptly and tragically.

I generally don’t do well with thrillers – I dislike those plot devices that quite literally make you fly through the pages despite yourself – finding it too breathless and hectic – I suppose I like subtle – and thrillers aren’t very.

Having said that I quite enjoyed this, it is well written overall, my gripes are minor ones, and the story really zips along once it gets going. There were a couple of things in the story I was unconvinced by – yet there’s a good sense of tension and secrets to be revealed. For me, this was an ok, 3 star read which I had probably expected too much of but was perfectly readable. Christine Mangan’s debut is a deeply chilling story of obsession and manipulation.

I imagine they will make a film of Tangerine in time, and I might even go and see it.

June in review

I’m a little late with my round up post this time, a lovely, sociable weekend away with friends means I didn’t get chance to do it before now.

As far as my June reading goes, it was a little below par, three of the books I read were rather underwhelming – although I have managed to read nine books and eight of them were for my #20booksofsummer.

BLCC mysteries are good escapist reads, and Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert made for a good start to the month. A World War Two mystery set in an Italian prisoner of war camp. An unpopular prisoner is found dead in the most successful of the camp’s escape tunnel.

My first book from my 20booksofsummer pile was Transcription by Kate Atkinson which I read for my book group. It was a book that should have ticked a lot of boxes for me – and yet it fell rather short.

Farewell, My Orange by Iwaki Kei on the other hand was wonderful. A review copy I had had tbr for ages it was a little gem. A novella set in Australia it tells the story of two women, immigrants to the country. They meet at an ESL class, and over time they bond through a language that belongs to neither of them, forming a lasting friendship.

Another lovely review book was Life in Translation by Anthony Ferner an excellent novel about the trials and tribulations of a group of translators. It’s a well written intelligent novel set in Lima, Paris and London.  

My favourite read of the month was undoubtedly A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, an absolutely stunning novel – I was rather sorry to finish it. It tells the story of siblings Catherine and Rob in the years before the First World War. Abandoned by their parents they live in their grandfather’s house – and over the years their sibling love enters forbidden territory. There is a poetry in Dunmore’s writing that I absolutely loved – it is always a pleasure to read such exquisite writing.  It also ticked off a title on my Women’s prize list.

Unfortunately, The Stranger from the Sea by Paul Binding was another book which I had expected more of. Set on the Kent coast in the 1880s, it is a reimagining of the characters from Ibsen’s play The Lady from the Sea. Personally, I thought it might have been improved from being shorter.

Full House by Molly Keane was a breathe of fresh air after the previous book, I always like a Molly Keane novel – she is quite underrated as a writer, I think. She writes complex families so well and her writing is full of wonderful descriptions. In Full House an eldest son returns home after a nervous breakdown and the secrets and frailties of a family are gradually revealed.

The Furrowed Middlebrow imprint from Dean street Press has become yet another firm favourite with me. Henry by Elizabeth Eliot didn’t disappoint, the likeable narrator Anne Palliser relates her own story and that of her elder brother Henry, an irresponsible charmer who decides one day to open a maternity home.

I was tempted to buy Tangerine by Christine Mangan because of the setting and period – I should have known it probably wasn’t my kind of book. I generally don’t like modern psychological thrillers – and though this was much better than some (of the few I have read) I wasn’t completely enamoured. Review to come in a few days.

I am now taking a quick break from my #20booksofsummer list to read my next book group book – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – which will tick off another book on my Women’s Prize list.

After that it is back to my summer reading list – which I am doing ok with so far. I tend to get distracted from these lists right at the end and I realise I have foolishly put a lot of modern novels on to my list – which might have been a mistake – I usually like to spread them out a bit more than this. I might have to read the VMCs and Persephone I was supposed to save till the beginning of August for the LT All Virago/All August a little early.

I would love to know what you’ve been reading lately and what plans you have for July. As always, whatever you’re reading in July I hope you enjoy it.

When I read my first Elizabeth Eliot book; Alice I just knew that I would enjoy all of her books. Alice was the first of her novels published in 1949, Henry was published a year later. It employs the same device as that earlier novel, with a narrator telling the story of themselves along with a key figure in their life, in this case a brother.

Henry is narrated by Anne Palliser – Henry is her older brother. Anne is another lovable Elizabeth Eliot heroine, rather insecure and quirky. She is youngest of three siblings; her brother is about eight years and her sister Sophia ten years her senior. They grow up at Trelynt, a large mansion in Devon. With parents, siblings and governesses on hand to tell her what she is doing wrong, Anne has perfected the art of giving herself a bit of a talking to.

“The trouble with you, Anne, is that you’re always imagining things.’ Who had said that? Probably mother. Or the governess before she left to get married. How disagreeable, and it was all the fault of the sub-conscious. . .  Why didn’t the sub-conscious ever turn up things like: ‘Anne, how beautiful you are looking today.’ Or even: ‘That’s a good girl finishing up all your dinner.’”

After the war, Anne escapes her overbearing mother and moves to London, where she takes up residence with a couple of writers and takes a job as secretary to the very eccentric Lady Merton. Lady Merton is a woman who rather misses the efficient organising that the war gave her the opportunity to enjoy. So, somewhat bizarrely she continues to organise canteens across the country – insisting they will still be required.

As Anne strikes out on her own, her older brother Henry remains a focus. He is a force of nature, irresponsible and charming. In the opening pages, Anne looks back to a time when as a child walking down the long driveway of the family’s large Devonshire home, Henry (who should be away at school) appears out of nowhere on a motorbike. At seventeen he’s run away from Harrow – he takes a delighted Anne into the village and buys her tea. The family are not well off – the house is much too large – but boys have to be educated correctly, so it was Harrow for Henry and governesses for the girls. Henry doesn’t return to Harrow – instead he quite literally runs off and joins the circus. After which Anne doesn’t see much of him for a few years, he has been married and divorced and taken up a mistress by the time Anne is living in London and working for Lady Merton.

Henry turns up and is introduced to Lady Merton – and Pamela Merritt a doctor who is part of Anne’s new crowd. Henry’s a gambler and a flirt – but Anne is a little surprised to see him spending so much time with Pamela. When the large family house passes to him, following the death of his father, Henry decides he won’t sell, as everyone had assumed he would – but will marry the doctor and open a maternity home. Henry’s original idea had been to open a nursing home for drunks – but Pamela decides a maternity home would be better. What could possibly go wrong?

Well quite a lot as it turns out – Mrs Isaacs who comes to Trelynt to convalesce and never leaves, new mothers, cross husbands and a former school friend of Pamela’s turning up in the local Panto company raking up bad memories. Anne pays several visits to her former home, getting involved in the new and often chaotic atmosphere. Meanwhile, Anne thinks she might have fallen in love with Gerald, who is writing a murder mystery. She is also trying desperately to avoid moving back in with her mother who has now taken a flat in London.

“I had gone away but mother had followed me. If father had lived she wouldn’t have been able to. It was the greatest pity that father had died.

For a moment I tried to be fair. Perhaps mother would really like to be rid of me and Sophia; but she considered us to be her duty. Family love, family feeling, they were conventions, they didn’t mean anything. Mother was not a vampire, she was only trying to conform to convention. I hated her and I was sorry for her.”

Henry is a novel that is darkly comic and fully engaging, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. There is the cruelty and anxiety caused by dysfunctional families, hidden beneath Eliot’s humour is the reality that growing up inside such a family isn’t comfortable. It is this I think that has caused Elizbeth Eliot to be likened to Barbara Comyns, and while of course she isn’t exactly like her, there are certainly similarities. I enjoyed this one very much, and I’m looking forward to Mrs Martell and Cecil (Elizabeth Eliot clearly liked the eponymous novel).