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Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Evelyn Smith’

With thanks to the publisher for the ebook

It is probably not much of a surprise that after my last read – Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – I needed something totally different, by way of a palate cleanser, something I could rely on. I turned therefore to Dean Street Press, and the first of two of the new releases that Dean Street kindly sent me. The new batch are out in August – and this was one I had been especially looking forward to.

Miss Plum and Miss Penny is my first book by Dorothy Evelyn Smith – someone I had heard enough about from others to know I wanted to read, but whose books are difficult to find. Hooray therefore that Dean Street have re-issued this one, and The British Library women writers’ series will be bringing out another in a couple of months or so.

What I really enjoyed in this novel is that beneath the story of a spinster’s disrupted village household there are some dark undertones and a slightly subversive tone. I also rather liked the fact that in this late 1950s village – it isn’t all flower arranging and good works, but people actually sit and watch tv in the evenings – just like us! It also makes a rather fun companion to another Dean Street novel I reviewed recently – Not at Home – another story of household disruption.

This novel opens as Alison Penny wakes up on her fortieth birthday. She is a contented single woman, living with her long time faithful servant/companion/friend Ada. Ada is fiercely protective of Alison, and we get the impression that she would happily work for her for free. Alison has never married – and she is quite happy with the way her life has turned out – her one near miss was George – who her protective (controlling?) parents disapproved of and sent packing.

“Love isn’t safe. Love is a blinding flash in the dark. It is a leap over a cliff. It is a breathless dive to the bottom of the ocean…”

Now, each year on her birthday Alison receives a letter from George sent from which ever far flung corner of the globe he finds himself in. She looks forward to the letter – it is a tradition, part of the natural rhythm of her life. This year however, there is no letter from George, Ada is indignant on Alison’s behalf, but Alison tries hard to take it philosophically. She decides to go out, to have lunch and see a film.

Later, walking in the park near the duck pond, Alison sees a young woman in some obvious distress, and walks away to give her some privacy, however on glancing back she sees the woman appears to be about to throw herself into the duck pond. Alison acts at once, racing to drag the young women away from the water and back to the safety of dry land – where she immediately takes her in hand, making sure she is fed and dried off at the local YWCA. However, when the YWCA can’t take in the poor sad creature Alison decides she must take her home for a day or so, from where she will be able to help her back on her feet.

The young woman is Miss Plum; Miss Victoria Plum (don’t laugh she’s quite sensitive about her name), and once installed, she becomes surprisingly difficult to shift. Ada is certainly none too impressed with the resident of the spare room – Miss Plum, spends several days unwell in bed – looked after very well indeed by both Alison and Ada – although later, Alison is suspicious about just how well Victoria knows the house layout and whereabouts of things downstairs when she has been apparently bed ridden upstairs since her arrival.

“It was not until she was just on the verge of sleep that a sudden and rather frightening thought smote Alison.

Today was Miss Plum’s first day downstairs. How, then, had she been aware of the sofa bed in the breakfast room? How had she been able to lay hands with such unerring precision on teapot and tea caddy, milk, sugar and biscuits? How had she known where the spare hot-water bottles were kept?

The all too obvious answers sent her shrinking farther under the bedclothes.”

Victoria has soon got her feet well and truly under the table. Alison turns to two of her village friends for some advice on how best to ease her out of the house. They are Hubert, the local widowed vicar, and Stanley. Stanley is a man rather set in his ways, he has a very comfortable home, and is ministered to by the marvellous Mrs Platt. Both these men have considered whether they shouldn’t just marry Alison – though whether they would make her happy has never much entered their heads. While Stanley’s life is very much one of order, elegance and routine, Hubert is a man whose has never got over his wife’s death. His life is far from ordered, the main disruption in his life is his fourteen year old son Ronnie. Ronnie is particularly obnoxious and annoying in way teenagers can be at times. The fact of the matter is neither of Alison’s friends take her problem very seriously, and before anything much can be put into place, Alison falls ill with flu, just as Ada sprains her ankle. There is only one person therefore who can look after them both and she does so with obvious joy.

As Alison and Ada recover – more and more things seem to get in the way of getting Miss Plum out of the house. Christmas approaches, snow falls, and an unexpected visitor descends on the village. Meanwhile, Miss Plum manages to ingratiate her way into the life of the village – making quite an impression it seems on young Ronnie.

This was such a good read – I really appreciated that characters weren’t perfect and very relatable – not everything is tidied up in the traditional way. There is humour and pathos here, and I do love a story that isn’t as cosy as it may look from afar. Really looking forward to reading more by Dorothy Evelyn Smith soon.

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