(One of my Librarything Christmas secret Santa gifts from last year, thank you Jane)
Leo Walmsley was not, I confess, a writer I had ever heard of before Jane sent me this copy of Love in the Sun re-printed by the Walmsley society. He was I have discovered a writer of quite a number of books both fiction and non-fiction. The first edition of Love in the Sun coming with a quite glowing introduction by Daphne Du Maurier – which Jane kindly printed out and sent to me with the book.
“We were in love and we knew what we wanted. To have a little house close to the sea, a garden, a boat…”
In a very autobiographical novel, Walmsley tells a fairly simple story. It is the story of a young couple, who rent an old army hut in a secluded Cornish cove during the depression of the 1930’s. Seeking to escape the speculation and gossip of the Yorkshire, fishing community from which they originally come, they only want peace and privacy in which to rebuild their lives. He is awaiting a divorce, dodging creditors, writing a book and with just a small amount of money on which to live for a while, requires cheap accommodation and a vegetable garden. The woman with whom he intends to spend his life is Dain, his constant support will be joining him in just days. On Christmas day while in St Jude, Cornwall, he meets a shipwright who later that day first shows him the army hut which will become his and Dain’s home.
“I looked at the hut, with my heart pounding inside me. Wasn’t it almost the very thing that we wanted? We’d imagined a fisherman’s cottage, on a lonely beach, or perhaps on a little island. It would be primitive and dilapidated, and of course, unfurnished, but we’d have the excitement of putting it to rights, of furnishing it ourselves. Wasn’t that hut almost as good as such a cottage? Wasn’t the place almost as secluded as an island? It was out of sight of the real sea, but was there not an outweighing advantage in having a cove and a waterway one could use in all weathers? Why should we wait? Why should we be parted?”
Although reasonably sound the hut is in a bit of a state and soon the couple get busy setting it to rights, furnishing it simply and sorting out the vegetable garden. They intend to live simply, eating mainly what they can grow and catch, while sending off marine samples to a science laboratory for a few shillings a week. On their first night in the hut a storm rages above them, the holes in the roof soon anointing the pair in rain water, in the ensuing clean-up they find a half drowned kitten and take her into their new home – naming her Choo-i. Meanwhile our unnamed narrator gets down to writing his book, the affectionate story of his home town and the people he knew there, the fisherman and their wives.
Over the course of the story – there are a number of incidents which punctuate the idyllic life the couple have found themselves, a life they come to appreciate more and more. They buy a small boat and begin fishing in earnest, feeding themselves and Choo-i with the resulting catches. When a face from the past threatens their privacy, fearing discovery by gossips and creditors, the pair take measures to avoid a meeting with the mate of a ship at anchor nearby. However, friendship is sometimes to be found where we least expect it, and the couple find their quiet life enhanced by such a bond.
The book is finished, and cried over, and then the manuscript must be typed up. Then it has to be sent out, the two of them can’t help but dream, of what could follow; the author himself at one minute certain of success, the next just as certain of miserable failure. The divorce is finalised, a quiet private marriage takes place, a baby already on the way. Problems with money, the loss of their precious boat, they face together and with good cheer. With the first book published, the pressure is on to produce a second and for it to do well.
Their idyll is threatened, the couple’s togetherness and extraordinary good luck (which never seems to desert them throughout the course of the book) is required to get them through.
I was sorry that I didn’t love this book in the way Jane obviously does, I wanted to, and felt I must have missed something – perhaps I did. Although I liked the book, it has real charm, it’s engaging with an idyllic setting, I had a couple of reservations; the endless good luck the couple experience seemed a little contrived to me, and the book as a whole a bit over-long (416 pages). Surprisingly I didn’t take to our narrator particularly (I didn’t dislike him – but he came across as rather cold). Oh dear that sounds grumpy – and I don’t mean it to, overall it’s a good book, I loved the setting, the idea of that Cornish cove will stay with me, for a few days I definitely wanted aspects of that life.