This gentle novel chronicles daily life in an English village between the wars. The protagonist is Laura Morland, a widowed mother of four sons, who earns a living by writing popular but insubstantial novels. Though three of her boys are grown up, she has her hands full with the youngest, Tony, who is currently obsessed with toy trains. She also observes the follies and foibles of her neighbors and friends, and she is not above interfering when the situation warrants it. For example, wealthy widower George Knox has just hired a conniving secretary who bullies his daughter and appears determined to become his wife; since George is oblivious, Laura takes it upon herself to get rid of the odious woman. Then there’s Sibyl Knox, a sweet young girl with no matrimonial prospects as yet, but Laura has a particular match in mind. And finally, there’s loyal Anne Todd, who has sacrificed everything to care for her sick mother but who still longs for a little romance. Can Laura surmount these various obstacles and ensure happy endings for all involved?
This is my first encounter with Angela Thirkell, but it definitely won’t be my last! In the past few years, I’ve discovered that I really love the types of books published by Persephone, Virago, and Bloomsbury. They’re usually written by women, usually in the 20th century prior to World War II, and they usually deal with the quiet, domestic problems of village life. For me, these books are a form of escapism to a (supposedly) simpler time, but they are also wonderful character studies that explore various forms of human weakness with humor and compassion. In this book, for example, there are no real heroes or villains; even Miss Grey, the objectionable secretary, is ultimately more pathetic than evil. The book is sweet and often quite funny, especially in its descriptions of Tony. I was a little disappointed that Laura herself didn’t end up finding a suitable match, but I suppose that only adds to the realism of the book. Overall, I’m not sure I’ll be re-reading this particular book, but I’ll definitely be continuing with the Barsetshire series!
N.B. I should add that the edition I read (pictured) is full of typos, misspellings and other errors. I’d suggest finding a different version if you can!